I’ve spent a lot of time with some old people in a retirement community this week.
What strikes me is that many elements of who they are were set long ago.
It’s not that they can’t learn new things. Far from it. There is an enormous amount of learning going on here. They go to lectures and meet new people and talk about things happening in the world and in their community. These people are dynamic, not static.
But who they are — their basic trajectory — doesn’t change.
What remains the same?
These are the types of things that don’t change:
Are you a leader or a follower?
Do you seek out new experiences or are you afraid of them?
When you meet new people, are you suspicious or open?
Do you like music? Art? Literature? Conversation?
Does conflict energize you or do you avoid it?
Do you like exercise? Dance? Competition? Nature?
When confronted with a new tool, is your instinct to learn about it or to shun it?
Do you judge people quickly or slowly? Can you change your mind about people or do you tend to stick with your first impression?
How do you react to people who are different from you in terms of politics or religion? How do you react to people of different genders, races, social classes, or sexual orientations?
In my experience, these things don’t tend to change once a person gets to retirement age.
You can change your trajectory
This matters to you if you are in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, even sixties.
Because I think people can change themselves. But it takes a conscious effort.
Given the chance to try something new, try it.
Given the chance to meet someone new, give them a chance.
Given the chance to lead, see if it suits you.
Given the chance to love, love.
Expose yourself to new ideas, situations, people, and groups whenever possible. Who knows what you’ll find interesting. Especially when you are (relatively) young, there is not so much to lose and so much to potentially gain.
Trajectories are far easier to change at the beginning or even the middle, before they’ve been established for decades.