Learning to Be an Elder

By Jim Selman | Bio

of my friends who is about my age has been in a period of deep
reflection and growth. He recently shared that he was moving into a new
space of awareness analogous to the transition from adolescence to
adulthood. He said he was becoming profoundly aware that he has
something valuable to say and that part of his growing older is coming
face to face with becoming responsible for creating a new
‘presentation’ in the world. He struggled to express this
transformation: he likened it to learning a new language for expressing
himself as a person, as someone who has a very different and evolving
relationship with himself, other people, his circumstances and to the
future. He thinks this is what we must go through as we become Elders
in the truest since of the word.

I am not sure exactly how he
said it, but I got that he is having to set aside all of his normal and
comfortable ways of expressing what he knows and what he thinks has to
contribute to others. A lifetime of sharing clever, even powerful
insights is not particularly useful or appropriate to the ‘way of
being’ that he is learning is available to us as we mature. I likened
it to letting go of my attachment to all of the things I think make me
valuable in the world—my intelligence, my commitments, my generosity
and my competencies.

I said to him something like, “Oh, I get
it, you are reinventing yourself.” His reply was one of those
lightening bolts that can change your life. He said, “Yes, but that
looks very different from my side of the fence than it looks from your
side of the fence”. I realized that I am very attached to who I think I am. And now I am at one of those moments in life where I must put it all at risk to learn or create who I am becoming.

I am living in this question: “Who am I and what is my value if it
isn’t all of the qualities and things that have constituted my work and
my career for the past 45 years of my life?”

I know that the
possibility and the question in no way invalidate or devalue anything I
have done, or anything I have learned or anything about my past. What I
hear in my dear friend’s wisdom is a space into which to grow beyond
merely extending my history—no matter how comfortable and natural that
extension might seem.

There is a great short video called “Second Wind
with John Davidson that asks us why not have it all in this last third
of our lives? If all we need is to just keep moving and stay engaged
and open as they Davidson suggests, then I am excited about
experiencing more of what my friend has to show me…and perhaps standing
side by side as human beings who have something to say and who have
learned who we have to be for others to listen.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.