Forget About “When I’m 64”. What About When I’m 95?

I love caring for caregivers. As a result, I focus a considerable amount of my consulting, training, and speaking work serving hospice and home care organizations, schools, human resources, and social services. 

This week, I’ll be speaking at an international conference to hundreds of hospice care professionals, and, like any time I give a keynote, I’ve spent days preparing and conducting research. Interestingly enough, as part of my preparation, I came across a blog I wrote 4 years ago that spotlighted the work of Tony Campolo. Today is a modified repost of that original blog.

Tony Campolo, an American pastor, author and sociologist, surveyed 5o individuals who had reached 95 years of age, and he asked this simple question:

If you could go back and live your life differently, what would you change?

According to the latest research I could find, less than .05% of the world’s population will reach the 95 year mark. That means if you wait until your 95-years old to answer this question, there’s a 99.95% chance your answer will have a big blank next to your name.

Campolo found 3 trends from these seniors about what it takes to fully engage in life. What can you apply today to make the most out of the time you have remaining?

1.  Reflect more.

If you’re anything like me, you can get so caught up in DOING that you rarely put aside adequate time to stop, think, and consider with intensity the things you might otherwise take for granted.

When was the last time that you reflected on how grateful you are for indoor plumbing? Electric lights? Hot showers? Grocery stores? Fresh water? Clean clothes? I can tell you the last time reflected on those things: When I lost power for several days! Now I try to be intentionally mindful and grateful when I flip on a light switch and turn on the tap for a drink of clean, cold water.

How about your car? The roof over your head? Antibiotics? Public education? Good health? How about your freedom? I’m reading a book by Balazs Szabo who fled Hungary in 1956 as the Soviets tightened their death grip on that country. Szabo recounts how too many fellow Hungarians were arrested, tortured, and put to death fighting the Communists for the freedoms we Americans enjoy each day. Today, Balazs reflects on his freedom regularly, and he speaks to audiences admonishing them to be mindful and grateful of the freedoms we enjoy.

When you reflect more, you recognize that the seeds of misery grow in the soil of discontent; conversely, the seeds of gratitude multiply in the soil of grateful reflection.

Reflection allows time for evaluation, to check in on our progress as individuals. And that, in turn, allows us to celebrate our successes and to make intentional adjustments when we find that we are heading down the path of regret.

In what parts of your life do you need to STOP, THINK, and CONSIDER intentionally?

2.  Risk more.

Risk-avoidance is really being faith-challenged.

In my relative youth (which is code for old but still immature), I sat behind the wheel of a 350Z convertible flying down a long, straight, mountain pass in Colorado. I surprised myself with my risk-tolerance as I took the car up beyond 130 mph. Stupid, yes. Illegal, yes. Dangerous, yes. I had a rare opportunity, and I took it, as stupid as it was to do so!

But ironically, as casually as I may have risked dying, at times in my life I’ve often been unwilling to risk embarrassment by sharing my feelings or opinions. And once, my fear nearly kept me from pursuing a job I really wanted. In my mid-30s, I had a chance to leave my safe, secure corporate position to do something entrepreneurial that I absolutely loved to do. I said No. The risks were too high. Five years later, my corporate position went POOF. Guess what I did then? I became the entrepreneur that risk-aversion prevented me from becoming earlier. Had I taken the risk five years before, I would be five years further ahead today. And my life would end with me having spent five additional years in a role I loved.

Friendship. Marriage. Saying Yes. Saying No. Saying I love you first. Buying a home. Bringing home a pet. Having children. Trying a new recipe. Taking a job overseas. All risks. All risks worth taking.

Looking back on 95 years of life, few seniors expressed regret for their bad choices; they did, though, regret that they didn’t risk even more.

Were you to look back on your 95th birthday, what are the things you’ll wish you had risked more to achieve?

3. Invest more in eternal things.

This weekend, my wife and I made a HUGE investment. We purchased a 6-foot tall Dawn Redwood, a tree that can grow up to 200 feet tall with a 25-foot spread at the base.  Do you know what that means? The two of us will be long gone before this tree reaches maturity. Just because we won’t be here to enjoy it fully tomorrow didn’t prevent us from making the investment today.

None of the 50 seniors said, “I wished I had spent more time in the office!” But many of them said (1) “I wish I had considered how quickly life passes”, and (2) “I wish I had made more intentional investments in others.”

Most of us will never have a college, library, or hospital wing named after us. Instead, when we leave this life, what remains behind is the investment we made in others, like our spouses, children, loved ones, friends, neighbors, community members, and coworkers. Where we invest our love and our time today can create ripple effects that will last for eternity.

What mindful investments are you making today that will become your greatest legacy?

Summary

The simple lessons of REFLECT more, RISK more, and INVEST more give hope to anyone who is still able to hear and act upon these words of wisdom. Perhaps it’s time to reflect so you can fuel your gratitude or make adjustments in your life. Maybe it’s time to take more risks to get you where you want to end up in life. Or it could be that now is the right time to heighten your awareness about your legacy and what you’ll leave behind in life.

Aren’t you glad you don’t have to wait until your 95 before you apply these lessons?

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