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Why Is It Important to Share Our Wisdom With Younger People?

By Joan Normandy–Dolberg, LPC, Chair, Public Awareness, Advocacy, and Marketing Committee

An interesting and surprising event occurred to me this week. I received a request for a newspaper interview about “what constitutes mature love.” Having recently turned 61, I am very sensitive to the word “mature,” which I hear as a euphemism for “old,” and frankly, I don’t consider myself old. So I began to think about where I am at this moment in my life and in my career and, more importantly, where I want to go.

Like many of my peers, I came to the field of counseling as a second career later in life. After 25 years as a special-education teacher, I realized that I most enjoyed my one-on-one work with individual students, so counseling provided me with the opportunity to do just that. Although the academic and supervision requirements were arduous, the ability to hang up my shingle, to be my own boss, to set my own hours, to work one-on-one with individuals and families whose lives changed for the better as a result of our work together, was well worth the years of preparation.

I feel blessed to have found a field that I find fascinating, and I am constantly reading and attending conferences and workshops because I love to learn new techniques. I also enjoy the challenge of applying this new information to help my clients.

For those of us in the helping professions, age, rather than being a liability, is an asset. Our life experiences give us credibility and the compassion that comes from having lived through the tough stuff and survived. When I share (carefully and thoughtfully) certain aspects of my life, it is with the wisdom of lessons learned the hard way. I never present myself as an expert, just as a survivor. The things I did in my former life (survived a painful divorce and the loss of a child; taught school; parented three children; worked as a waitress, a graphic artist, and a freelance photographer; and traveled throughout Europe alone for many months) all helped prepare me for a career as a helping professional. 

The early work of psychologist Albert Bandura, PhD, included experiments on observational learning. He concluded that desired behavior could be learned much more rapidly when observed rather than having to personally experience it through the process of trial and error. He emphasized the importance of learning from others as a therapeutic tool. Based on Bandura’s work, I believe that young adults can increase the possibility of making wise and rewarding choices in their lives by hearing about the mistakes of those older than they and the consequences of those choices.

With a perspective based on the work of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, as a middle-aged adult (and I consider 60 the upper level of middle age), I face the challenge of extending outward from myself and generating ideas that assist in the development of the next generation. I like to think that I accomplish this every day through teaching, counseling, and sharing the wisdom of my experience with those younger than I as they face the challenges of their lives. I consider myself fortunate to be in a profession where being older, wiser, and more mature grants us respect, credibility, and a greater chance for success!