Who Knows?

Seth Godin, the interesting and prolific blogger, recently wrote that no one knows the right answer, no one knows precisely what will happen, no one can produce the desired future . . . and you’re mistaken if you think there’s someone who does.  But that’s immaterial anyway.  It’s not about a gap between people who know and those who don’t, he suggests. The gap “is about the people who show up with their best work, and those that hold back.”

Happily, Mr. Godin’s blog coincided with some informal field research I’ve been doing.  I’m wondering:

  1. What positions are people 50+ taking about life rules in today’s world?
  2. What do people 50+ really believe about their futures?

At parties, in elevators and in my neighborhood I’ve been asking people these questions.  I’ve had to be careful because I fervently believe that some of our greatest and most interesting contributions are likely to happen well beyond 50, so it would be easy for me to distort the research.  Also, I don’t want neighbors to hide behind trees or cars, or walk their dogs in the opposite direction when they see me coming.

Shirley G., age 67, best represented those who aren’t disturbed either by not knowing or not having access to someone who does.  “I never thought any one person had all the answers. Of course, it’s a lot more work being responsible for my life AND not knowing for sure that I’m making the right choices.  Sometimes I wish I could be one of those absolute black and white, right and wrong people with no doubts, because I wouldn’t have to work so hard.  Still, I think I was given a mind and part of my pride in my life involves consistently using it well.” How does Shirley cope with uncertainty?  “By limiting the amount of media coverage I consume, doing pleasant things with interesting people in my free time, and devoting myself to the notion that I have lots of good years ahead.”

Tom S, age 70, best represented those who believe life is about finding and implementing the answers. “The answers are right there in front of us.  We all know the difference between right and wrong.  My parents taught me the commandments and rules of the traditions I grew up in.  So I’ve devoted my life to studying the rules and implementing the answers AND to hanging out with like-minded people.  I regularly wish others could have the comfort of answers and not make life so complicated for themselves in needless searching.” How does Tom cope with uncertainty?  “I keep my life at a manageable scale—living in a smaller town, devoting myself to my business, supporting my community, and devoting myself to my wife, kids and grandkids.  I watch TV news, read a lot and decide whose approach is closest to the rules.  Then I vote. I don’t know how long I’ll live and don’t care. The real value is in what I do today.”

What do you think? Are you closer to Shirley’s approach, or Tom’s?

Read Seth Godin’s full post here:


One response to “Who Knows?”

  1. Jari Searns says:

    Well I believe I tend to disagree with both Tom’s and Shirley’s view of life . At 73 I recognize more than ever how broad and how limited my life’s experience has been thus far and how really important it is to NOT reach conclusions without ever expanding knowledge.

    I think it’s key to keep learning and to try new things, Too many people among our country’s growing population of “seniors” narrow their perspectives on life and what they are capable of achieving,,, they live in the past when it’s time to put fear away and open the door to learning there’s a great world out there and so much to experience. And if you fail at something…so what, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. And DO NOT live on past achievements. Look forward, not backwards!

    I definitely disagree with Tom about hanging out only with like minded people…how narrow, how dull…how difficult to grow and challenge your beliefs by uncovering new and perhaps enlightening information. It can often reinforce your initial beliefs or help you see the perspectives of others and gain more empathy.

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