HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU STOPPED TO LOOK BACK AT YOUR LIFE FROM BEGINNING TO END?
When I arrived in San Jose during my return to Costa Rica, I met a 75-year-old man – “actually 74 years and 8 months”, he said – who spent 3 hours telling me about his life, from childhood to the way he wants to die. He gave me the gift of a condensed overview of over 70 years of life.
Some of his stories included:
- How he travelled around Europe alone at 18
- Living as a gay man in the US Navy, during Vietnam War
- Having a twin brother, and two older brothers who were twins, too, and a sister who was lesbian and who became a man
- Travelling to Germany when the wall fell in ’89
- Going to the Soviet Union in the 70s to help scientists escape to the west
- Selling his houses at 60, when he retired and started living like a nomad for a while, despite having money
- How he made decisions and arrangements for what happens after his death; worries about there being enough space in the Jewish cemetery on Staten Island, and instead getting buried in a military cemetery. And through this process, how he discovered he was given an award as a soldier; one he hadn’t known about for over 40 years
- About his current life, his travels and relationships with younger men
GAME 1: Take a sheet of paper horizontally and draw a line through it. Put 0 on the far left, and your age on the far right. The fill in the gaps with key moments of your life. You may want to use different colors for different aspects of your life. Alternatively, take a larger sheet of paper (or a wall) and write each key milestone on a post-it (this method makes it easier to move things around).
GAME 2: Answer the following question after making your lifeline: “now that you can see more clearly your life from beginning to know, what difference does it make for you?”
FEED THE RATIONAL MIND AND MAKE A COMMITMENT
When I dropped out of university at 20, it was very clear to me that I had only really been “me” since the age of about 15 (as in the person who takes conscious decisions). At most, I had 6 years to look back on… and during these 5-6 years, I had still spent most of the time doing what I was told (ie. going to school and university). When I would meet with mentors who were in their 60s, it was clear to me that even though they’re “only” 3x older than me, they’d actually got 40 years of conscious life that I didn’t have.
This meant that compared to a 20 year old, someone in their 60s really has 8x more life experience than you.
Young people make up for experience with enthusiasm and energy. Old people make up for enthusiasm and energy with experience.
I’m often asked “how can you be so young and know so much?” and “how can you coach people who are 2-3 times older than you?”.
Sir Isaac Newton said “If I can see further, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants”. I have simply applied his principle by making two habits a full part of my personal and professional growth:
- I invest time talking to men and women above the age of 70 (this became a habit after working in a house for elderly during summer holidays as a teenager)
- I read biographies (even tough I had read biographies before, it only became a conscious habit after receiving this advice from Ankur Malik, founder of RealAcad)
Through coaching clients of all ages, ethnicity, and professional backgrounds, I know that a lot of our misery comes from the narrow vision we have on life. With a bit of distance, we understand better what has happened in the past, what is happening now and what will happen tomorrow. When we understand better how 70 years of life pan out, we have better insights on the decisions we make and what we learn from life experiences.
GAME 3: Find 1 person over 70, and ask them to give you a summary of the most important moments of their life. Then, post the outline of their life as a comment to this post. Add to the post what you have learned from the conversation you’ve had.