I teach the human-development course for the psychology and education departments. I love teaching this course! The students in my class are very diverse. Some are from Baltimore while others are from all over the globe. My students range from 16 to 62 years of age and host a wide variety of experiences.
For their final paper, I ask my students to interview someone 60 years of age or older. For my 62-year-old student I suggested he find someone 80 years of age or older. He found a woman who was in her 90s who repeatedly referred to him as “young man.” Needless to say he had a great time! The students have specific questions to ask to gain insight into their interviewee’s life. I would like to share with you the patterns I have seen as a result of these interviews. I hope you will take something that can help you along your life path.
The majority of people interviewed strongly regret not continuing their college education. They see their lack of college education as a roadblock to financial stability in their senior years. Statistically we know that people with good health, higher education and of mid-to-high financial status do better as they age then those without.
When asked about love, interviewees became most reflective and really opened up. The common themes were: “I should have tried harder in my relationship with (fill in the name). He was the one that got away and I think I would have been happier in that relationship.” Or, “I divorced my husband/wife after 25 years of marriage because it was broke and that was how I fixed it.” We repeatedly heard the underlying theme, “If you’re not happy get out while the getting is good.” We also heard “If wife/husband #1 or #2 doesn’t fit, you can always find #3 or #4, if you look hard enough.”
For female interviewees, relationships and family were of highest importance. One woman, was proud to say she has been the constant caregiver for each of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. This totaled about 28 individuals she has touched in a deep way. Having each go out in the world and do well was how she defined her success in life not by career.
For male interviewees, similar to the women, raising the next generation was important but they also felt the need to leave their mark on society or in their career. This included sponsoring people, helping others, being involved in their community on some level, providing for their family and having financial stability after retirement.
A person’s health greatly impacted their older years. Many struggled with the same health concerns their parents did. Diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and other chronic health concerns were top on the list. Their suggestions were to take care of your health while you’re young. We know that our health is a culmination of what we did starting very early in life not just once we turn 60.
I enjoy listening to the number of interviewees who have persevered through difficulties and hardships and have a sense of integrity in their life. If you have the opportunity to sit down with someone older and ask them about their life, listen closely to their story. I am positive you will find gems that will get you thinking about your life and what you want to glean from it in your lifetime.