Eleven Principles of Life I Learned as an Elderly Caregiver Volunteer
I was getting all these magnificent snippets of wisdom, and I was not even aware of it.
I believe in the influence of personal experiences in shaping your outlook on certain aspects of life. From an early age, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by older people, and I count myself among the most fortunate people who got to learn their life regrets and lessons. They have always helped me in my decision-making and life in general.
Before going any further, I would like to delve into my experiences with the Austrian civil service and how I came about learning life lessons from older people.
In Austria, there is a mandatory military service of six months that everyone has to go through. If you do not want to that, there is an alternative civilian service option, which is compulsory. However, the civilian service lasts nine months. You have to decide on a non-profit organization which you “voluntarily” join.
When it came to my turn, I inclined towards the elderly care service because I always had a good relationship with older people. Since my parents were busy with the restaurant during the day, my grandparents were the one who took upon themselves to take care of me, and so I had a natural liking to the idea of being around them.
At the retirement home I selected for my civilian service, I got around to talking with a lot of older people, and I am not sure if it were just a coincidence or not. Still, I always ended up knowing all the life events they regretted missing out on, and it fascinated me. At the start, I did not think much about it. Probably it was because I was young, but as I got older, I understood what they were trying to tell me all that time.
What Do You Regret the Most as You Age?
All the life regrets I heard during my caregiver service has tweaked my inner psychologist over the years. The realization itself was jarring: I was getting all these magnificent snippets of wisdom, and I was not even aware of it.
I have seen people in retirement homes who are barely over 50 having life regrets. As I recall, some of the most common regrets I heard were as follows:
1. “I Wish I Was Enough”
It is such a trivial thing growing up — to be selfish and not care about anyone else. Yet, it was one of the most common life regrets I heard. People in retirement homes want to get another shot at making things right, and they want to start with being more generous, kind, and giving. When they say a little altruism can go a long way, they are most certainly talking about life after retirement.
2. “I Wish I Cared Less”
A lady at the retirement home told me how little she cared about what others thought of her. I still remember to this day how she said it in the most carefree way. It is only when you start getting to a point in life when you begin to see that whatever people say about you negatively does not hold any value at all that you actually start being mentally free from worrying. I think the energy we spend on unnecessary worrying is definitely one reason we give up hope for a change or a better life.
3. “I Wish I Had Not Worked So Hard”
Many people expressed this regret, and I remember getting unnerved by it even though I mostly ignored this advice back then, but somehow, it did stick with me. People hate having spent all this time and hard work on things that seem unimportant now. They hate that they missed their children’s recitals or play performances and that they were wrong in prioritizing their career above all else.
4. “I Wish I Had Expressed Myself”
Funnily enough, I heard this one coming from men the most. People usually suppress their feelings to keep a controlled environment, and it was a little shocking to me when I learned that people feel guilty about not overcoming it. Some other people just carried bitterness and resentment while they actually wanted to mend their relationships, but life was not that merciful.
5. “I Wish I Had Accomplished More”
It is not the best in the field. It all comes down to trying for more. Later on, I realized that when the older people told me they wished they had not worked that hard and wish had accomplished more, they were talking about grabbing the chances they missed or felt too lazy to get. Small personal accomplishments become one of the prized collection of memories as you age beyond 60.
6. “I Wish I Had Stood Up for Myself More”
It is a common illusion when you want to please someone, and you must go all the way to make them like you. I think with age. You understand that being too nice all the time is probably not in your best interest; you have to stand up for yourself sometimes.
7. “I Wish I Had Traveled More”
Traveling is expensive, no doubt, but the people who stayed closer to homes for a more significant chunk of their lives almost always complain about not traveling more. This sense of adventure only after you are nearing death can tell you more about how to orient your life now to include frequent traveling, no matter how trivial.
8. “I Wish I Had Kept in Touch with Friends”
As soon as we get settled in our professional lives, we let our work and responsibilities dictate the better of our time. In my experience, after you are retired, and you are old, you miss your friends and buddies the most after family. I noticed people wished for a friend reunion much more than meeting with their family in some cases. I have slowly reoriented my daily schedule to include some time for friends and colleagues just because I had it in my subconscious that the elderly feel regret that they let their friendships fizzle out over the years.
I learned so many other regrets, but I think these ten are some of the most common life regrets and lessons I learned from my civil service time.
What I Learned from The Elderly
I learned three valuable lessons from my time in the retirement home. Of course, the regrets were lessons in disguise, but some aspects of their wisdom stood out. These include:
- The first lesson I learned from older people is to focus on ideas and execute goals. It also includes not having any regrets when I am on my deathbed. I have a list of things that I would like to finish before I die, and with this new mindset, I feel like my life is completely changed now. As soon as I get interested in something, I do not hesitate to log and implement it directly. It goes for work as well as enjoyment. Whenever I feel like I am about to take a risk, I carefully assess the pros and cons and decide without overthinking it. It is easier said than done, but it requires some practice. When it comes to recreation, I dial down on the analytical part and often let my spontaneity rule-free.
- The second lesson I learned from older people is that you need to travel more, enjoy your time with family and friends and not take things too literally. Life is unpredictable, and you never really know what lies on the other side. Since my work field restricts me to take huge chunks of free time, I try to squeeze in as little as possible to be guilt-free. I have also learned to express my feelings better to my peers and friends. It is always better to clear emotions early on than later.
- The third lesson is not to spend too much time looking for a spouse. I have seen love transforming into a lasting relationship just after dating for weeks, and I have also known people who were dating for years before splitting right before commitment. I also came across people who were single their whole lives, and they were in retirement homes. Some of them divorced their partners early because they felt like there was no compatibility. I cannot imagine living with someone for a lifetime without getting along with them, so I would prefer a partner for life.
As sad as it is, people who are nearing death can feel their life legacy fading to dust. It is an alarming aspect of aging, yet it is humbling in many other ways. Those of us who still have our lives to figure out something can learn a great deal from the people who came before us. Their life experiences might be different from ours, but we can learn a thing or two about solving some of life’s puzzling problems when we face them. We can also make our lives better by reusing their wisdom instead of starting afresh and building upon it. It can also make us free of unnecessary regret on our deathbeds.