What are we left with? (Our Memories)

I was asked a question recently that was very deep and thought-provoking. A friend asked me if I had to choose between an old age spent losing my physical abilities but keeping my mental faculties or an old age spent losing my mental faculties and keeping my physical abilities, which one would I choose? The question gave me pause because I normally do not focus a lot on my impending aging but it’s natural to think of what life will be like once you are an elderly person. My friend did not hesitate to say that he would choose having his physical abilities intact since he is a very active person and enjoys running, hiking, and exercising at the gym.

He thought that I would agree with him and I do like to keep active as well physically but I also thought of what would happen to my mind if I could no longer process and retain information about books I love, music I enjoy, and movies where I can recite a lot of lines of dialogue from. Perhaps most importantly, I thought of all the memories I have made up until this point of both friends and loved ones and how it would be anguishing to me if I succumb to a disease of the mind where I lose sight of who I am or who my family or friends are. I think that really is a fate worse than physical deterioration because I find that our physical abilities and our peak performance do not last and Father Time will have our way with all of us regardless of how much we exercise, take vitamins, and play sports. Eventually, your body will break down especially the older you get and there is only so much you can do to spot that.

However, I tend to believe that exercising our mind and our mental capabilities can be a lot easier and take a lot less work than it takes to maintain our physical body. We live in an age where you can learn anything you want about an unlimited number of subjects. Keeping our minds sharp by studying foreign languages, learning new subjects, reading good books, writing our thoughts down in a journal are all healthy activities to kind the mind sharp. I am not an expert in terms of how to keep our mental capacities up as we go through life but I would imagine that putting your brain to the test especially with puzzles, trivia games, and sudoku especially can help you preserve what is most important to you.

Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand how sad and tragic it is for others to slowly lose their mental capacities and that is what tipped me towards the idea of focusing as much, if not more so, on giving myself the best show to work on my concentration, my memory, and my ability to learn new things. I believe that we all have that same capacity to preserve our mental capacities although it does take consistent work that not only last years but lasts decades as well.

Part of the reason why it is good to be able to exercise your brain as much as possible is because I really believe it makes you a more well-rounded and thoughtful person. Learning new things is something you should never really give up on. Having a college degree or a law degree or a medical degree is not really an excuse to stop learning and stop exercising your mind to the most you can push it.

We do not know what old age will hold, what will it be like, what abilities or faculties we will be left with but what we have control over is today and what we focus on whether that is mental or physical exercise. What I do know is how meaningful it is to remember what has happened over the course of your life and to be aware of those special memories that are yours and yours alone. In the end, what are we left with? We are left with our memories and hopefully it is more of an endless ocean than a single drop of water.

To focus today on making those memories with the people we care about and the things we enjoy doing will make old age that much sweeter. If your body one day gives out but your mind is still sharp, I think that is the better side of the deal. Obviously, it would be great to be fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack until your last day, but I find that to be wishful thinking. I hope to remember who I am, what I’ve done, who I met, and most importantly who I loved when that time comes to reminisce and there aren’t many more memories to make.

Having memories in your mind that are fresh and seemed like they happened yesterday is the best you should hope for and what you can strive for by working today to strengthen your mental capacities as much as possible.  Your body at 70 is unlikely to be as good as your body at 70 but I’m a believer in the capacity of your mind at 70 to be as sharp as your mind at 20 within reason.

There are definitely outside factors to contend for in terms of your ability to retain your memories such as your genetic predisposition, your family history, and your own mind’s chemistry, but you can control a lot today through your own actions what memories you will be left with 50 years later. It also does not hurt to start writing down in a journal or diary on a daily basis or at least a weekly basis what happened in your life. This is especially the case if you live an exciting or an eventful life.

In addition, having photographs of yourself at different ages and in different places will jumpstart your memories and remind you of where you have been and what you did. Towards the end of your life, think of what you will have left. Yes, you will have your money, your possessions, and hopefully good physical health but I wish you also to remember deeply the memories you have made from different parts of your life and they are as vivid as possible. Your life towards the end of it should be like a cinematic movie of many parts, one as distinct from the other, and I hope you can look upon those memories you have made with great enjoyment and great fondness for what was and what it meant to you.

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Paying It Forward

Over the course of a lifetime, you can acquire knowledge, resources, and perspective from having lived longer and experienced more than perhaps your peers and more so than those people younger than yourself. Hopefully, although this is not always the case, you will have gained ideas, maturity, and wisdom, which you can impart on those who will come after you. Now while I am not directly referencing mentorship or being a mentor to others, I encourage those who have the knowledge and skills handed down to them or learned through their own efforts to pass that wisdom down to the next generation.

While ‘paying it forward’ may have gone out of style, it has been a part of human history since the early days of man. All great works in this world could be lost if it was not for oral or written recordings so that the knowledge could be passed on to those younger and curious to learn from those who came before them. Teachers, professors, coaches, and mentors play a valuable role in our society because they are entrusted with the high responsibility on passing on their mastery of different subjects on to the next generation. While these are not perfect people, they take it upon themselves to pass on their teachings to those younger and more inexperienced in the hopes that they will take their learnings to improve the world in some way.

However, you do not need to be a teacher or a professor to pass on your knowledge or your skills to younger peers or students. Everybody should take it upon themselves to ‘pay it forward’ in some way by imparting your hard-earned knowledge on to others whether they are family members, friends, mentees, or work colleagues. Part of paying it forward is realizing that you will not be around forever and if you bottle up all of your wisdom, experiences, and overall knowledge inside your mind then it will be truly lost with your passing.

You can be sure that one way to leave an impact, make your mark, and have a legacy is to teach others what you were taught while adding your own perspectives on what you have learned so that you can add your own context to the subjects you have mastered. Nobody is perfect but it is better to share that knowledge with an apprentice or a student than to let it go to waste and be lost to the ether.

From Socrates to Plato and Robespierre to Napoleon, both knowledge and wisdom has been passed down from one generation to the next. In order to progress and advance in your professional life, you’ll sometimes need to reach out on your own to those older and more experienced than you in your field of work. Guilds, trade apprenticeships, and mentoring programs do a lot of the good work in terms of paying it forward, but these opportunities don’t always come around for the average person.

If you see someone who you can help out either professionally or personally and you want to take them under your wing to see how they progress, that’s the best way of paying it forward. Instead of just choosing anyone to help, focus on those people who are interested in your line of work or have the same kind of personal life as you did. You will want to help those folks who are willing to listen, to learn, and to actually implement the advice that you give them. Sometimes, it’s best to let that person reach out to you when they are looking for help but you may have to take the initiative if you don’t have anyone reaching out.

As I discussed in a previous post, mentorship goes both ways but paying it forward is something you should do out of the good of your own heart and out of a desire to leave the world better than when you found it by positively impacting someone’s life. All of us have a lot of experience, knowledge, and skills to share and there are many people out there who don’t or won’t have access to the same resources as we did.

Of course, first, you’ll have to find who that person is who you want to help but remember to not be too selective or wait forever to make your impact. If you have been working hard over the years and decades to build up your knowledge, you should not let it all go to waste by keeping it to yourself. When no one sets the example of paying it forward, it can create a negative ripple effect whereas that kind of useful information or life experience won’t be passed down to those who need it the most.

You may not see the rewards of your efforts in sharing your knowledge or expertise right away but over the years and decades of you helping others, you will definitely see the results whether its’ in the neighborhood, the community, the country, or the world. Everybody has something to contribute to the overall society and even more so when you are able to help others do the same in their own way. ‘Paying it forward’ may not be requirement in living a good life but it will certainly leave an impact on yourself and those who you assist and help during the course of your life.