Five Pillars of Aging

by Mary L. Flett, Ph.D.  November 19, 2017

We need to renegotiate our lease on life.  To do this, you may want to check out my new book (eBook in development!), Five Pillars of Aging.

Five Pillars of Aging is about what it takes to age in the 21st Century.  While aging may be a biologic process, in terms of our self-perception, our abilities to engage with life, adapt and change with circumstances, explore meaning, and harvest the gifts of the whole thing, it is multi-dimensional.  And it is a finite promise.  We are granted a lease on life;  a specific period of time in which we develop beliefs and strategies that carry us through to old age.  How we apply these beliefs and strategies, how we perpetuate and increase (or decrease) our legacy, can be explored systematically.

Five Pillars of Aging is both a concept and a road map.  The concept is that each pillar has its own unique properties that, when aligned, form a basis to explore and continue to grow until our lease is up.  The road map allows you to start with any one of the pillars and find your way among them all.

My purpose in writing is to share the experiences I have had in my own life, as well as sharing the experiences of literally hundreds of elders whom I have had the privilege of working with, being friends with, being mentored by, and in my own small way, helping to navigate this final frontier.  I hope the collective wisdom and insight will inspire you, provide you with some new ways of looking at aging, and offer reassurance that this period of life can be enriching and fulfilling, not something to dread.

So, what are the five pillars?  I use the mnemonic, L-E-A-S-E.

  • Legacy
  • Engagement
  • Adaptation
  • Spirituality
  • Economics

First Pillar: Legacy

We can leave all kinds of legacy — a house, pictures, objects that mean something, our genetics.  But we also can leave a legacy of values.  Those things that are important to us and that we use to make decisions.  We can also address what I call ‘dark legacies’ — those things that shame us or make us afraid of sharing who we really are.  Being intentional about what kind of legacy you want to leave is important and is a worthy pursuit.

Second Pillar: Engagement

Staying engaged over the lifespan is essential to having a good quality of life.  This means staying involved cognitively, physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, as well as managing illness and disease.  It requires that we learn new tricks and change bad habits.  It means that we commit to staying present when we might prefer to check out and just disappear.  There are all kinds of strategies for staying engaged.  Finding which ones work best for you can be a fun project!

Third Pillar:  Adaptation & Accommodation

Things change.  We can change with them (adaptation) or be changed by them (accommodation).  When you recognize you have choices, change is much easier.  Sometimes we need to change our environment to meet our needs.  For example, we may need use brighter light bulbs to see better or add hold bars in the bathroom for safety.  Sometimes we need to change our thinking.  For example, if I have diabetes, I will need to think differently about how I eat and exercise.  The more willing we are to make adaptations and accommodations, the higher the quality of life we will have.  Staying stubborn and refusing to make changes is just plain silly.

Fourth Pillar: Spirituality – Finding Purpose and Meaning as we Age

This isn’t just about if or how you worship.  It is all about finding purpose and meaning.  One of the challenges of aging in our culture is that older people become invisible.  We go from “doing” to “being”.  The time between retirement and dying is more than just waiting for death.  It is an opportunity to explore purpose and meaning in your life. Especially now that many of us will live 20 and 30 years after we retire.  There are only so many cruises you can go on before you decide that there must be something more to this thing called life.  This is a wonderful opportunity to find that!

Fifth Pillar: The Economics of Aging

This is more than just having enough money in the bank.  This about how we value ourselves as we age and learn to manage our resources better.  I have boiled this aspect of aging down to three concepts:

  • I am enough
  • I have enough
  • There is enough

“I Am Enough”

This concept relates to our self-worth.  Many of you may be familiar with the term net worth.  A definition of net worth is the sum of all your assets minus your liabilities.  When we apply this to our self-worth several things emerge:  1) it is vital to take stock of our ‘assets’ honestly; 2) it is likely ‘our’ assets have changed over the years; and 3) no matter what our age or status, investing in our ‘assets’ will pay off in the long-run.

What are YOUR assets?  These change as we age.  Perhaps you were beautiful or handsome in your younger years, and you ‘traded’ off these assets when you were younger.  Perhaps you had a sparkling personality, were the life of the party, or were a hard worker or a loyal friend.  All of these are assets you bring to your later years.

How have they appreciated or depreciated?  Some may have fallen by the wayside or perhaps wasted away without use.  Others might have grown in value and become the foundation of how you spend down your time.

Knowing you are enough is challenging at any point in our life.  As we age, particularly in our western, industrialized culture, our value as elders appears to diminish.   Coming to terms with this is key to maximizing your returns regardless of how much you may have in the bank.

Generally speaking, we are valued for what we do and who we are (“doing” and “being”).  You can see this in our rituals of introduction.  “How do you do?”  and “What do you do?” are common conversation starters.  As we age, however, what we did in the past may be less valued than our current functional status.  The conversation starter turns into “How are you doing?”

Being and Becoming

Being and becoming are wonderful investments in aging.  Becoming happier, more compassionate, being kind and loyal, are all ways we enhance our self-worth.  Once you truly understand that you are enough, then the rest flows.

Thanks for reading!

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