TIME psychology

10 Life Lessons You Can Learn From the Smartest Older People

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Matt Hind—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

I’ve posted before about research into the most important life lessons we can learn from older people, taken from Karl Pillemer‘s excellent book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

Here’s another take on the same subject:

Before the 50th reunion of Harvard Business School’s class of 1963 they asked them what lessons they would pass on to younger people.

This isn’t firm scientific research — but we ignore it at our peril. We can learn much about life from those who have seen it to the end.

The site has a lot of content but I’ve gone through and curated the bits that I felt were most useful and insightful. Hat tip to my friend Nick for the pointer.

 

LEADERSHIP

ANONYMOUS:

I would have been a better leader if I had been less cocky in my early career, and more confident in my middle career.

 

ROBERT K. BOWMAN:

A successful leader:

  • Knows as much as he can about his organization’s mission
  • Believes in the mission
  • Communicates the mission clearly
  • Points the way
  • Gets out of the way

 

CAREER

RON LESLIE:

Steps to find fulfilling work:

  1. Take the initiative to investigate the places you think are of interest. Ask good questions.
  2. Go with the self-assurance of having written on an index card each of your past accomplishments(including where you simply helped other people do their thing) in three forms:
    1. A simple phrase; e.g., “top salesman in New York office for three years”
    2. A three-sentence statement of the problem, your solution, and the result
    3. A one-page explanation or anecdote to share if asked to give details
  3. Use those cards deftly to encourage people to talk to you — showing you listen on their level and understand whatever they tell you. Remember: The more they talk, the smarter they’ll think you are.

 

MARRIAGE & FAMILY

RALPH LINSALATA:

  • Tell your spouse and children that you love them every day, no matter how you feel.
  • Do not bring your problems home with you.
  • Realize the joy that comes from helping your spouse and children excel in their fields of interest and enjoy themselves.
  • Develop within your family a sense of obligation to help others.
  • Spending quality time with your family — not just time — is critical.
  • Choose a spouse who will understand and support you, and one for whom you will do the same. Life is much better if you can help each other grow and expand your knowledge, experiences, friends, and capabilities.

 

RON LESLIE:

The sweetest words in the English language are, “Granddad, would you like to …?”

 

BUSINESS

DONALD P. NIELSEN:

  • Not all decisions turn out well. Be prepared to deal with problems over which you have no control.
  • Almost everything will require more money and more time than you think.
  • Never settle for “good enough.” Always strive for excellence.
  • Set high expectations for yourself and those with whom you work.
  • Move quickly to deal with people issues.
  • Hiring smart, driven people is a ticket to your own success.

 

WEALTH

WARREN BATTS:

I was born in 1932 and grew up during the Depression. In the beginning, poverty was the level to which I aspired. When I reached it, my next goal was to get out of debt. That took several years. Then my goal was to become financially independent. After reaching independence, more money was not a great motivator for me. My interest became trying to make a difference — making the company I worked for successful, and working for my church and other volunteer organizations.

 

GROWING OLDER

ANONYMOUS:

Retire to something — not from something. Stay engaged. Be physically active and intellectually curious.

 

CHARITY & SPIRITUALITY

J. LAWRENCE WILSON:

If one is devoted solely to promoting the welfare of himself, his family, and his friends, life can be barren. Charity, faith, and spirituality enrich one’s life. Faith or the belief in a power greater than oneself seems to be important for humans, for spirituality is a part of every culture. If this spirituality fosters concern for the welfare of others, it is of great benefit to society. No matter what a person’s professed faith, I admire him if he is charitable.

 

HAPPINESS & SUCCESS

HENRY A. GILBERT:

Success and wealth are being a lover and being loved.

Success is using your tools and powers to enhance the lives and success of others.

Success is capitalizing on economic opportunities yet treating others with over-reaching kindness.

 

J. LAWRENCE WILSON:

When I think back over my career, I am struck that my fondest memories are of people rather than experiences, places, or accomplishments.

 

TURNING POINTS

RALPH LINSALATA:

What did I learn from the turning points in my life? Look for great colleagues, role models, and teachers. Be certain to understand the opportunities relative to the risks, and how the risks can be avoided. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and act accordingly. Play to your strengths while you work, but work on your weaknesses.

 

GERALD (JERRY) WOLIN:

Many things that happened in my career were the result of random acts. The important thing is to keep your eyes open to recognize the right moves.

 

LIFE’S LESSONS

JOSE M. FAUSTINO:

I switched fields twice in my academic career — I believed the entire experience was part of growing up. The lesson here for young people: Do not hesitate to switch interests, majors, or fields of concentration. Find your preference or your passion, then focus on it to your heart’s content.

Success is a journey – not a race. Prepare well, retain good practices, and make a habit of effective strategies:

  1. Do not be content to be average. Mediocrity breeds boredom, poor opportunity, and an unsatisfactory lifestyle. Instead, decide to excel in everything you do, and be distinctive, if not unique, in your approach.
  2. Take well-analyzed risks, particularly when there is everything to gain and little to lose. Do not be afraid of rejection when you have competently and ethically tried to succeed.
  3. Be skilled in political strategy. Interpersonal, leadership, and motivational skills are all important for success, but few consider political strategy. In my mind, there is organizational politics in any group with more than three people.

 

JOHN A. MOELLER:

An important lesson in life is learning whom you can rely on, depend on, and trust, and whom you cannot. Only experience and “gut feel” can teach this. Human nature and values — whether of business owners, top management, associates, or staff — vary all over the place. Steering your life, family, career, time, investments, and loyalty toward those you can trust and rely upon is a priority.

Never forget where you came from, and always remember what you are here for. Be true to your values and faith. We are here for a purpose. Enjoy the ride.

Here are more life lessons from the wise.

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Related posts:

What’s The Most Important Life Lesson Older People Feel You Must Know?

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What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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