My grandmother turned 83 years old in May. She was born in the bedroom of a small house in Minersville, a lower-income neighborhood of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, highly populated with workers of the then-thriving Bethlehem Steel mill. Despite her own parents’ lack of education, my grandmother and her brother went on to earn college degrees and both of them subsequently became elementary school teachers.
My grandmother served her local community as a teacher for three decades before she retired in 1993. Always passionate about politics and making a positive influence, she was on the local Housing Authority and served as the Johntown’s Deputy Mayor.
Despite all of her successes, my grandmother also faced many hardships. Raised a devout Catholic, my grandmother has been married three times, which was taboo for her generation from a religious and social standpoint (although it is worth noting that she and my step-grandfather have been married four decades- third time’s the charm!) Her first husband, my biological grandfather, left her with year-old twin daughters on Christmas Eve in 1957 when he told her he was heading to the grocery store to purchase cream soda and he’d “be right back.”
He didn’t come back.
He left my grandmother for his mistress, whom he subsequently married. After that, the only time my grandmother ever saw him was in court for child support matters. My mother never knew her father. My grandmother also had a daughter with special needs. (I wrote about her extraordinary life here.) She had to bury her daughter in 1987 when she died unexpectedly from diabetic complications.
I don’t think my grandmother’s life would have been as rich as it turned out if she hadn’t experienced those obstacles.
It’s important to know the stories of our older family members while they’re still alive to tell those stories. Our elders’ life experience make them significantly wiser than we are.
I recently asked my grandmother what her eighty year-old self would have told her thirty year-old self. It took me months and months to get some answers because she spent considerable time manifesting thoughtful responses.
This is what my 83 year-old grandmother would tell her 30 year-old self:
Use Care when Seeking Advice. If you listen to other peoples’ advice, you make other peoples’ mistakes. Be thoughtful in not seeking advice from people who have a history of making poor choices or are unstable themselves.
Concentrate on Learning. Travel and observe. Read. Intellectual growth is fundamental. Read books from many different authors. Travel extensively for knowledge. Associate with the learned. Stay optimistic.
Understand that life and living is a game. You are a participant. Decide how you want to play the game, but play it without compromising your morals.
Self Acceptance and Validation. Accept yourself and the things you’ve chosen about yourself which others may dislike. It is necessary that you approve of yourself. The approval of others is always pleasant, but beside the point.
Attitude. Be cheerful and happy. People will respond in kind and physically, you’ll look cheerful, happy, and more youthful.
Self-Care. Take care of yourself mentally and physically. Good health is a major source of wealth. Without it, happiness is impossible.
Money. Do not equate money with success. Many successful money-makers are miserable failures as human beings. What counts most about success is how you achieved it.
Failures. Realize that sometimes you will lose in big ways. The way that you deal with your losses determines the success in your life. When you become a victim or allow yourself to be perceived as one, then you lose control of your destiny. Always try to do what is best for you and if it doesn’t work to your advantage (again, without compromising your morals), start all over again. Just don’t become a victim or blame other people.
Kind Acts. Expect no gratitude for your actions. Before you do something for someone, even your family and including your children, act because you sincerely want to help, but never expect gratitude. Heartfelt actions are not disappointing ever.
Have a Listening Ear. Speak softly and quietly. Listen diligently. No one ever learns anything by talking.
Spirituality. Pray daily. Know, first and foremost, that God controls your life. Trust in him always. Worship him because His love endures forever. In order to have a successful life, you must have a profound trust in God and a spirituality that is deep and lived, not just thoughts without actions.
Find a Mentor to Guide You. Having a mentor who I had the humility to trust would have been the best for me. A mentor must like you, but you must be willing to share all of your secrets and trust their advice with them, especially when you don’t want it or like it. I had several people in my life who had the intelligence, experience, and affection for me that if I had used them correctly, would have been unbelievably advantageous. They were not family members, which was a good thing. In retrospect, I realize that in each of my relationships with them, I lived as I wanted and always knew when I was on a path that wasn’t right, and so I would sever my relationship with them. If I had been blessed with a more stable, thoughtful personality and used these mentors as I should have, then my life would certainly be different. I’m not sure that different equals better, but my curiosity has been peaked now, and I know a caring and intelligent mentor would have made a huge difference in my life.