Growing older (not “old”, mind you, but older) has its advantages. Sure, I can sigh over the physical changes I see in the mirror on a regular basis, but there are a lot other things I end up embracing. Wisdom is certainly one of them.
Many people talk about their new-found “wisdom” as they grow older. They make it sound very zen-like – becoming an elder is a sign of honor. Elders are respected and revered because they have gained the wisdom of life. We are the beautiful wise ones. Light the candles and honor us with your gifts and praise. If we are suitably impressed, we may even impart some of our wisdom upon you.
Wisdom’s cool, I guess. It’s earned with years and experiences that the younger folks just don’t have, and after all we’ve been through, if we haven’t gained some knowledge along the way, what’s the point? When asked, we can definitely share this wisdom. The problem is, no one asks.
It reminds me of a summer ten years ago, when we had our boat docked at a marina that faced a water area that included a deep channel bordered with a very shallow, rocky area along the shoreline. Although clearly marked with buoys to warn of danger, and plainly indicated on nautical charts, people with smaller boats inevitably thought they could take a short cut. Those short cuts always ended with the bang of a propeller smacking into the rocky bottom. There was a picnic area behind our boat docks, and we would all sit and watch. Early in the season, we would see the occasional small power boat approaching the rocky shallows, and we would stand and try to wave them out to the deeper water. The response was one of two extremes: they would smile and wave back us, assuming we were just being friendly; or they’d flip us a finger gesture, apparently assuming that we were snobs who didn’t want their pesky boat near our beautiful marina. Despite our best efforts, we never managed to get a boat to avoid problems. After a month or so of trying to be good Samaritans, and watching boaters ding their props on the rocks anyway, we finally gave up. Instead of leaping to our feet in warning, we’d quietly say “here comes another one” and we’d wait and watch, shaking our heads is wise sadness when someone disregarded the warnings and encountered the clearly marked shallows. We no longer accepted responsibility for their careless actions. Right or wrong…it was a nice feeling. [disclaimer: there was no danger of physical harm in this example – that would clearly be a different matter]
I feel that same sense more and more often these days. The young and foolish dive into dangerous waters that we could definitely tell them to avoid. But would they listen? Probably not. And should they? Probably not. After all, how will they gain their own worldly wisdom without learning a few lessons along the paths of their own lives?
And so we watch, and smile. Or perhaps shake our heads sadly, knowing we’re viewing a potential train wreck, and knowing that, unless asked for, our advice is unwanted.
There’s a certain feeling I get when I listen to someone in their twenties telling me of their plans for their lives. I’m feeling my own life experience just dying to burst forth with advice, and yet I know they don’t care. I’m mentally sitting back and quietly thinking “there goes another one.” I’m being smug. It’s kinda cool. I just smile and listen. You know that old saying – “Life is what happens while you’re making plans”? Well, that old saying surely came from someone in their fifties who had learned the folly of making plans first-hand. It came from someone who was confident, wise, and smug. And at the time they said it, no one under forty paid attention.
“Well, first I’ll finish my degree, then I think I’ll spend a year in Europe just bumming around (maybe I’ll find a sexy Italian!), I’ll spend some time in Monaco, and then I’ll come home and get serious, get a job and get married. I don’t want children until after I’ve gotten my masters degree, established my career and we have a house in suburbs. Thirty-two would be a good time to start a family. We’ll have two boys and girl, and they’ll be athletic/artistic/scholarly…. blah blah blah….” Uh-huh.
I like being smug. I like watching girls pick up magazines like Cosmopolitan, with articles such as “15 Ways to Amaze Him in Bed.” Honey, after a few years together, just showing up in bed interested in sex will amaze him, trust me. There are no tricks required. And if a guy requires tricks, walk away. It simply isn’t worth the effort, because he’s more interested in experimenting than he is in pleasing you.
I enjoy listening to younger women talking about their guys from my smugness perch. “He’s so obsessed with playing basketball right now, but he’ll settle down after the wedding.” NOT! “His mom gave him money to pay off his college loans, but he bought a new snowmobile instead – it’s awesome.” RUN! “Oh, my God! We went to Myrtle Beach on vacation, and all he wanted to do was GOLF! That’ll never happen again.” OH YES IT WILL. “He thinks he’s getting a big screen TV for Christmas, but I’m getting us a new bedroom suite instead.” YEAH, HE’LL THINK THAT’S A MUCH BETTER IDEA… “There’s just no room in the driveway for that old wreck of a hot rod he’s been fixing for years, so I told him yesterday that he has to sell it.” CAN YOU SAY ‘DIVORCE COURT’?
And fashion? Oh, boy. The ups and downs of hemlines, haircuts, bathing suits – – – yup, seen it all. What goes up will come down, and vice versa. “Stick with the classics, kiddies,” I think smugly. But of course they won’t do that anymore than we did. Raise your hands if you wore miniskirts with a maxicoat! Hot pants? Goucho pants (horrors!)? Peasant tops? Spandex and leg warmers? Those ’80s power suits with five-inch shoulder pads? A wise woman told me that if we wore something the first time it was in style (hip-huggers, hot pants, etc.), then we are automatically too old to wear them the second time they come back in style.
In the office? I’ve been patronized, I’ve been bullied, I’ve had the best mentors, and the worst (and best) bosses. I’ve been given incredible opportunities, and gone further than I probably “should have” without a college degree. I do my best to mentor my employees and co-workers. I’ve played all the corporate games through the years, and it always amuses me to see someone trying to “out-play” me. Mind you, I don’t like playing silly games, but if I’m forced to do so against some fresh-out-of-college whipper-snapper, I’ll break ‘em like a twig. Seriously. And I’ll do it with a full and satisfying sense of smugness.
Let’s face it – we’re looking at the world through the lenses of vast experience, and yes, wisdom. We should enjoy our hard-earned smugness as we watch the youngsters learn their way. We’re not smug because we were any smarter then. We’re smug because we made fools of ourselves just like they will, and we know that one day they’ll look back and cringe just like us. We can’t, and shouldn’t, stop them. Just smile and wish them luck. Smugly.