Both the Year and the Decade are Changing

2020 2020 2020 2020 2020 2020 2020 2020 2020

Yes, a New Year is coming and a new decade. For many, this is a time of celebration — witnessing the passage of time with loved ones and/or friends or on one’s own. And, in what amounts to a nano-second, we move from 2019 into 2020. A ball even falls in celebration (shouldn’t it rise?).

For me, the move from decade to decade (2010 to 2020) is an opportunity to look at the past decade and reflect on all that has occurred in that 10 year span — personally, professionally and in our nation and our world. And, the shift into a new decade is an obvious opportunity to ponder the next 10 years and what what they will bring personally, professionally and in our nation and our world.

We can look ahead but let’s do so with both enthusiasm and caution. Here’s why.

Of this I am sure for most people: The past decade had been filled with foreseen and unforeseeable successes and challenges, expected events and totally unexpected outcomes.

Indeed, if one asked most folks back in 2010 what they would be doing in 2020 and whom they would be with and where they would be living and who would be under their roof or no longer with them, the predictions would most assuredly be off — at least some of them. (Ponder doing that now in writing for 2030, whatever age you are now. Kind of like a person time capsule or forecasting.)

Speaking personally, I would not have guessed that in the just passed decade I would continue serving as a college president until 2014 and then, the college I led would seemingly experience a sudden collapse in 2019 under other leadership. As in collapse, gone, no more.

I would not have predicted that I am now an author of adult and children’s books, specializing in trauma and its remediation. I would not have predicted that family illness/accidents would interfere in a myriad of complicated ways, affecting relationships and friendships. The attack of Alzheimer’s Disease on family was not on my radar.

I would not have predicted that my new (as in this decade) partner and I canoe and kayak and ski and skate; we write articles/books together and travel near and far; we go to concerts and laugh and enjoy. We share and communicate and continue to be willing to learn from our mistakes and our past. We are forgiving of each other. Perhaps that’s an age thing.

I would not have predicted some of the deaths and births and separations that occurred in the past decade. Yes, some were expected. Others were a shock. Separation is not my strong suit. More separations (temporary and permanent) will come I am sure. While on losses, I lost a beloved sheepdog named Tate and we acquired an amazing, new, good looking, funny crazy-making lovable basset puppy named Wrinkles.

So, I am wary of predicting what the next 10 years will bring. But, this I know: the term “2020” has multiple meanings, including the number 20 itself. Those meaning help us here.

We say we’d make different decisions or choices with “2020 hindsight” but we know we don’t have that backwards vision and never will. We are stuck with the choices we make, for better or worse. And, we live with those choices. With 2020 hindsight, it is also easier to understand some people and some situations and some decisions. Operating in current time, we lack perspective and distance. But, with both perspective and distance, we can see more clearly. 20/20 hindsight may be painful at times but it is illuminating.

That last phrase gets me to another meaning of 2020, namely an expression of someone with very good vision (not perfect) as in 20/20 eyesight. Saying one has 20/20 vision does mean one doesn’t need glasses! One has visual acuity. That’s a good thing and something many of us wish we had.

But, perhaps 20/20 also can mean that we can see what we are experiencing with some added clarity — mental acuity. I raise this because I think as we age (and acquire gray hair which I proudly wear), we see some things (not all) with greater clarity. We have closer to 20/20 mental acuity as we age. I don’t mean memorization; I don’t mean insights into new science. But, I do think our brains allow us to process experiences we’ve had over decades with some benefit — the benefit of insight and subtly and wisdom. Indeed, we can even innovate with age, aided with those more familiar with technology.

Aging has some benefits (and a bucket of demerits). Experience is one of those benefits. And, there is not shortcut to garnering experience. Indeed, we need stop disrespecting experience; it is often viewed as “antiquated” thinking and being a Luddite. We downplay “doing.”

I spend lots of time with people of all ages from infants to adult learners to young professionals to older professionals. In that context, I am struck by the creativity and imagination and insights of many. I appreciate the youthful sense of wonder. Remarkable really. Inspiring. Keeps one young — physically and mentally. Listen to their voices. Listen to their thinking.

But there are some young professionals who think they have a lock on wisdom at age 40 (or under). Really? How is that even possible? Stated differently, do you want the doctor who has done 100 operations or the one who has done 1000 (no, not the over the hill one with shaky hands)? Do you want the lawyer who has tried 10 cases as first chair or 40 cases?

By way of example, think young consultants employed by the government (and elsewhere). Many have never gotten their hands dirty. Can you talk about teaching if you’ve never taught in ways that show a deep command of the life of an educator? Can you advise on budgets if you’ve never written one let alone examined at least a dozen? Can you advise on corporate structure in a practical way if you have never been inside a company or served on a board? Can you advise a law firm on its success if you’ve never worked in a law firm or any firm for that matter? Can you improve our healthcare system effectively nationwide when the only experience you have had has been as a patient(even a patient for many many years)?

Life gives us vision and we need to use that vision in the decade to come. I won’t predict what 2030 will bring. I have hopes and desires and goals. I have ideas and dreams and no shortage of thoughts. I am sure readers do as well. But this I know: aging doesn’t take away remarkable vision and clarity driven by and grounded in experience. I just hope I use it well.

Happy 2020 — as we look back and lurch forward. And whether you are young or older or old, value wisdom and mental acuity. It is insightful (in every sense of the word).

Written by

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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