By the time most of us reach our fifties, sixties, and beyond, we’ve learned a lot about dealing with uncertainty—the uncertainty that comes with facing challenges, struggles, and losses. For example, up to 50% of us have experienced divorces. We’ve had to deal with the uncertainty of ending much that was familiar and then starting a new life. Those of us who have experienced a divorce understand that involves loss and a significant transition, regardless of the reason behind it. Nonetheless, we move forward, often stronger and wiser.
In 2019 there were an estimated 1,762,450 cancer diagnoses and 606,880 related deaths in the United States; seventy-eight percent of those diagnosed were people 55 and older. Most all of us have either directly been affected by cancer or have stood with family and friends who have been diagnosed with this disease. We’ve experienced the uncertainty that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Most of us have also experienced the loss of someone close to us as a result of cancer or some other cause. Yet we’ve continued to move forward with an increased awareness of how important it is to cherish others in our lives.
Many of us have experienced serious financial struggles at one time or another and understand the feelings of uncertainty that are associated with these challenges. Some of us have also experienced devastating financial losses – whether it was the recession of 2008, mounting medical bills that have driven some into bankruptcy (or near ruin), or business failures that wiped out our savings or put us in deeper dept. Yet, we continue on, often wiser, stronger.
A surprising number of us have also experienced a degree of job discrimination and insecurity—especially once we reached our fifties. Research suggests that more than half of older workers are pushed out of their jobs before they are ready to leave. Many of us who have experienced the uncertainty of age-related job discrimination have learned new skills, have developed a greater degree of resourcefulness, and have gained new insights. We continue to move forward.
A Healthy Degree of Resilience
As a result of our life experience, the majority of us have also developed a healthy degree of resilience. Resilience is defined as “an individual’s ability to adaptively respond to hardship, stress, and adversity” or to “bounce back” when we face difficult challenges. According to researchers, resilience can help us cope with uncertainty and “emerge from a challenge” stronger and wiser. Indeed, we have gained a lot of wisdom and strength that is needed today.
Because we have a wealth of life experiences, we can remind ourselves that we can and will make it through difficult times—now and in the future. We can recall some of the coping strategies that we’ve learned throughout our lives. We can also reflect on some of the ways in which we have grown as a result of challenges.
Professor Dr. Andreas Kruse, the Director of the Institute of Gerontology at Heidelberg University noted that the psychological resilience of some older people should not be underestimated. Kruse also suggests that because we have profound life knowledge and have lived through hardships, rises, and extreme situations many of us could be good role models for others.
Role Models in Challenging Times
We have better-developed skills for coping with uncertainty than do many younger people. We’ve “been there and done that.” Even though most younger people may not be interested in hearing our stories about how we overcame our challenges, we can lead by example during the current pandemic situation. If we practice safety for ourselves and others and encourage others to do the same, we can make a difference.
We can use social media to encourage others. These are difficult times, but we can and will make it through this period. We can also offer to help those who need our assistance in some way.
If we support others’ efforts by ordering food to go from local restaurants when we can afford it, or by thanking grocery clerks for their work, we can lead by example. The last time I went to the store, I commented to a grocery clerk that I realized it must be difficult to serve on “the front lines” for the needs of other people. I thanked her and asked how she was doing. She said, “I just wish people would quit complaining to me because we are out of certain items or we won’t let them take their own bags into the store. I just wish people would be nice.” Being kind to others is a simple way to show support.
A couple of people I know are making protective masks to share with others. My neighbor sews and asked me yesterday if I could use a mask. My neighbor serves as a good role model by using her skills to help protect people in our neighborhood.
Together, we can make it through difficult times. We can also help younger generations learn how to navigate uncertain times.
What are your thoughts about how we can get through this time together? What life wisdom are you applying?