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Life spans

Submitted by sgrainger on

The combination of watching Joni Mitchell (aged 80) perform her well-loved song Both Sides Now at the Grammys, and visiting my father (aged 92) in Ottawa this past weekend, caused me to contemplate the implications of longevity when providing parental advice to your kids.

Joni Mitchell had never sung at the Grammys before last weekend; I bet there were times in her life that she thought she never would have the opportunity to do so. My father was an architect in his working life; he never thought he would be retired longer than he worked in a professional capacity. The fact is that, on average, people are living longer.

Would you want to know how long you are going to live?

I wouldn’t.

But, if you did know, would it shape what you are doing now or the choices you would have made when you were younger?

It’s hard to say with certainty, but if I was told when I was 18 years old that I would live to 100, I wonder if that would have relieved some of the day-to-day pressures I felt or added to them? After all, does choosing a university program or career path hold greater weight because you could be working longer? Or, would it carry less weight because you know that you will have more time to shift your focus and pursue multiple careers over your lifetime?

Jodi sings, “I really don’t know life at all.” My father never thought he would live past 70.

Certainly, life is unpredictable. However, given what we know now about the evolving nature of work, work arrangements and work-life balance, instead of knowing your exact life span, I think we are better to assume that most of us will have longer life spans than our parents and grandparents.

Thus, we should be encouraging kids who are considering their career path, to build in flexibility, lifelong skills, long-term objectives, lasting relationships, a code of ethics and a love of learning to guide them over decades. I would hope this will take some of the pressure off kids who might be wrestling with the weight of a short-term decision, reminding them that it won’t necessarily be a life-defining decision.

As best as we can, let's help our kids put some of their options and possible outcomes into perspective, despite life’s uncertainties.