The advice you crave is right next door (or down the street)

Last winter, I contacted an 82-year-old writer who had penned a beautiful essay for the NYTimes “Modern Love” section. I had heard Sophy Burnham on NPR as she read her essay, “At What Age is Love enthralling? 82,” and I was so taken with her language and message that I emailed her directly, to ask whether I could send her a copy of my book. Most celebrities don’t respond, but Sophy did, so I sent her a book and heard back within days that she liked the first chapter.

When weeks passed without word from Sophy, I emailed again to ask for feedback. She replied that while she had enjoyed peeking into my life, she had missed what she herself needed more of, from women who are older than she is now: advice about how to navigate this new stage of her life.  

That made me wonder exactly who a woman in her eighties—the one who’s supposed to be wise—could turn to for wisdom.

In May, when I told that story to another writer in her 80s, she thought women in their 20s would have some good advice. And that confirmed my own thinking about the importance of cross-generational conversation. So last month, when I spoke to a group of about 40 people, ages 30-90, I ended my presentation by inviting women representing three generations to join me (I spoke for my own generation) and answer two questions:

  • What kind of wisdom do you need right now, and which generation, outside of your own, will you turn to? 

  • What piece of wisdom do you have for women within a specific generation outside of your own?

Edith, age 89, said she would reach out to 20- and 30-year-olds to ask what she could do to make people that age want to engage with her. And Beth, who represented that very age group, wanted to know whether women in their 80s and 90s were seeing some of the same alarming social trends she was seeing now. And if so, how had women like my mother handled it? The other questions and answers were equally thought provoking, and of great interest to the audience.  

That led me to the conclusion that there really is nothing new under the sun—no problem we can’t help each other solve. The question is, how do we get four generations of women (and men!) to talk to each other? Do we even recognize the wealth of experience and advice each one of us can access through simple conversation?

How would you answer one of the two questions above? (Click the headline to respond.)

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June 13 Panel Discussion at left bank books

Laketa Jefferson, (right), had this question for women in their 60s: “As a woman in my 40s, I’m seeking advice on how to become patient as you are striving to advance yourself professionally. I feel that patience is something I struggle with while waiting for success as I climb. At times I seem to be so close, but just somehow unable to grab it.”