Stop and Listen: Lessons from Those Smarter Than Me
In some of my previous posts, specifically My Major Passion: Psychology Meets Gerontology, I mentioned that my true passion is Gerontology, or the study of aging. Every semester I take a different directed study class in order to receive my Minor Certificate in Gerontology, and this semester I took a Psychology of Aging class. As part of the requirements for the class, I was instructed to plan out, and execute, at least five group therapy sessions with an older adult population. I chose to do a guided autobiography group, and instructed participants from the local senior center. In a guided autobiography group, the participants revisit and write about different aspects and time periods of their life, with the goal of coming to terms with negative past experiences in mind. To protect confidentiality of the participants, I will not mention names or places, but I would like to share the life lessons that I have learned from the amazing members of my group.
Just calm down, and take one day at a time.
Let me start off by saying that I was incredibly nervous to run this group on my own. Even though the psychology program does allow me to practice running group therapy, the last time I did so was over a year ago, and it had been in the comforting setting of other cooperative classmates. The idea of going out into the real world, with real people and real feelings, terrified me. Yet the members of my group were incredibly supportive. Time after time, when I felt like I needed to be in total control and have everything planned out, the members managed to express the need for me to slow down. They taught me how to smile and laugh at life, because from the perspective of a 60-year-old, that’s about all you can do. Looking back at the past will not change it, and stressing out about the future will hurt more than help. This is something that is especially helpful to remember as we all approach finals. When I find myself getting overwhelmed with my upcoming exams, it helps to remind myself that preparing is all I can do, and the rest will come as it will.
Loved ones are the most important thing in life, and you should tell them how much you care more often.
As a 20-year-old, I find myself getting so caught up in life that I probably don’t give as much attention and affection to my loved ones as I should. In a recent exercise that the group did, I had them write letters to their loved ones. It was amazing to hear them express how important it is to let your loved ones know how much you care. They even expressed how when they were younger, they were so caught up in life that they did not tell their children, parents, or friends that they were loved enough. Thinking about it now, I don’t want to have that regret. I don’t want to look back and realize I could have taken two seconds to tell a friend they were loved, but never thought to do so. This hits home in a very personal way in relation to my best friend. We have been friends since sixth grade, we went to high school together, and we were roommates here at LMU during freshman year. Life happened, and now she lives in Johnson City. It was incredibly hard to separate from her, but even so, I find that we only talk every few weeks. My group members have encouraged me to call her more often, and to make time to tell her how much I love her. I believe making this conscious effort will lift my spirits and strengthen our friendship. This lesson can be helpful to anyone our age. Don’t let the stress and fast pace of college keep you from letting the ones you love know how much you care.
What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
It sounds cliché, but the members of my group are living proof of this statement. I heard tales of bitter divorces, sad deaths, and unhappy childhoods in my group. Yet these fantastic people sat before me and displayed the most healthy and productive attitude toward life. They all seemed to be okay with what had happened in their lives, and are proud of whom they have become. This helped me to learn that even though my life doesn’t always go as planned, it will be okay. If you never made mistakes or had anything bad happen in your life, you wouldn’t grow. You wouldn’t learn. I can relate so much to this; in college, I have always put so much pressure on myself to do well and make perfect grades. While I have no plans to start slacking off, this has helped me to learn that life does not always turn out like you want it to. Failing a test is not a good thing, but failure is a part of life. The most important thing is that you learn from it.
Lastly, stop and listen.
When I say that listening to the group members’ stories and life experiences helped them, I am not trying to brag. The simple fact is that everyone wants to be heard, and sometimes the older population is not given that chance. If I had not learned to stop interrupting, and start listening, then I wouldn’t have learned so much from these people who have their whole lives to share. Not only was it therapeutic to them to tell me what they have been through and gained from it, it was beneficial to me to be told about these lessons. Even though I am young, and will probably make plenty of mistakes in my own time, being able to look ahead and see the future from their eyes was comforting. Forty years from now I won’t necessarily remember what I made on a certain test, but I will remember the relationships and accomplishments I have made at LMU.
I have learned so much from my group members. What have the older adults in your life taught you? Feel free to comment with your own stories! Don’t forget to follow my blog to see future posts!