Are you helping to mentor the next generation... and letting them teach you, too?

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Did you know? Having a negative attitude about aging takes an average of 7 years off your life.

I was about 12 or 13 when my dad turned 40. It was a big celebration, with black balloons and jokes about old folks’ homes and bottles of Geritol. I remember thinking about how far away 40 seemed and wondering what my life was going to be like when I was “that old”.  

As it turns out, 40 arrived almost eight years ago, and it has been the best decade of my life.

I’m 47. And I’m owning it.

I’m more confident, more sure of where I’m going in life (or maybe I’m more content to not know where exactly I’m going), and with more perspective. I appreciate my life.

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If you think about the phrases people use to describe someone’s ability (or lack of) to accomplish something, we focus on age quite a bit. Have you ever said these words?

He is too young to understand this issue.

She is too old to be trying to run a marathon.

He is too old to hire for this job.

They are too young to start their own company.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now, at 29 years old, the youngest congresswoman in history. How many times would you guess that she was asked why she thought she could do the job at her age? Probably too many to count.

Seeing my own mother (now 73) embracing life and constantly on the lookout for new things to learn, I can see how one stays current and relevant. She doesn’t listen to anyone who says, “I’m too old to learn that” as she navigates social media, new iPad apps, and creative new techniques in calligraphy and painting. She taught me how to keep trying new things and mentored me through childhood, young adulthood, and now motherhood.

For every woman out there, no matter her age, there should be other women who take her under their wing to mentor, love, and encourage her. Typically, people think of mentors as our elders: those who have been there before us. And they assume that means that mentors have to be older.

I had the chance to return the favor for my mom when she was having trouble with a new boss who second-guessed everything she did. Mom had been doing her job for two decades by then, and it was frustrating and demoralizing for her to be treated as though she didn’t know what she was doing by her much younger boss. By role playing, we had a chance to practice what she might say to her boss to communicate clearly; it gave me time to think about how I might have fumbled similar situations in the past and learned from it. My mom trusted me enough to let me lead her.

My younger sister, the mothers in my community with children the same age but may be younger than I am, and people who worked for me or with me have been excellent mentors in various situations. Even my babysitter, who is now 16, has taught me about pursuing one’s dreams in a way that is pure and determined. Her focus on family, friends, and community and the way she weaves helping others into her life’s work at such a young age inspires me.  

As we age, we have the privilege of fostering relationships that open doors for the next generation, and I want to be part of that. Through the sharing of our time, mentoring can be the fuel to change lives. Cross-generational mentoring can serve in building our future and the future of our kids.

What would YOU do if you knew you were going to live to be 100? No one knows, of course, when their time on Earth is up; what we do know is that kids born today have a life expectancy nearing a century. What used to be the final third of a lifetime is now smack dab in the middle and hitting your stride. I’m thinking about how that time will be spent. Helping to lay the groundwork for the next generation sounds pretty worthwhile, to me.

This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.

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Kristin Shaw