We all know some elder people around us. While some rest in themselves and radiate deep wisdom, others are bitter and complain all the time – about the weather, the circumstances and getting old itself. What is the reason for this? Isn’t it a pity to live out your days like this? If you ask a person whether he would rather be wise or bitter, he will hardly choose the latter. But it’s not quite that simple. And yet you have a choice.
The seven-year cycles offer a beautiful perspective on life. Our life unfolds in these steps piece by piece. The first three sevenths can be described as the receptive phase. Here, it‘s mainly about learning. Curiously we absorb everything from our surroundings and thus develop our consciousness. While our first seven years are characterized by learning from parents, friends take this place in our school days. Between the ages of 14 and 21, we are increasingly shaped by external role models and idols.
Already the first phase transitions are connected with small crises. Within ourselves, priorities and old certainties shift. We not only notice this ourselves but also our environment realizes these transformations. On the one hand, parents are proud to see their child becoming more and more independent, but there is also some melancholy remembering the time in which they had always been the heroes.
After the age of 21 life takes off – not only because alcohol becomes legal in America then. The next 3 sevenths are all about conquering the world – during our expansive phase. The first seven years of this phase are the wandering years – European carpenters still have this formalized as a tradition. After completing the apprenticeship, the aim is to learn the craft from various masters. Between 28 and 35, this knowledge is then applied in an increasingly structured manner and a career is made. Hard work is rewarded by climbing the career ladder. Also in private life, you get established during this time: getting married, founding a family, building a house. Between the age of 35 and 42, you grow and consolidate your position. In professional life, the hierarchical position you have acquired results in less occupation with the content and more about maintaining and expanding your power. First doubts creep in. We notice that younger people are faster than us. What comes next? Is that it?
Especially in the alpine environment, the metaphor of a summit experience often comes to mind during this time. We sweated a lot on the ascent and made it to the very top. We enjoy the view from the top for a short while, but then the “summit cross melancholy” overcomes us. From here on there is only one way left – downhill. And this was not only one beautiful mountain tour of many but the one mountain of our life. Had we chosen the right mountain? Shouldn’t we have turned right down there at the crossing to the other summit? It looks much better from here. On the summit of our life, we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis and don’t know how to proceed.
The picture becomes even more vivid when we apply the sevenths to the dial of a clock. Starting from the top 0 we start clockwise. The first quarter circle is our learning phase, the second quarter circle our ascent, but the clock continues to tick. And just as the second week of our vacation passes faster than the first, it now continues at a rapid pace. And we don’t even know how much time we have left. Maybe tomorrow it will be all over already.
It is more than a coincidence that at the lower turning point of our life clock is labeled with 42. Exactly the number that Douglas Adams described in Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy as the answer to the question of life, the universe, and all the rest. Exactly this essential question arises here. Priorities have shifted, it’s no longer about the What and the How, but about the Why – or even better, about the forward-looking What For.
The second half of life is called the social phase – it is about passing on. And this is exactly where the two aggregate states of wisdom or bitterness emerge. This is not at all dependent on socially recognized achievements of the first two life quarters. It does not matter which school degree was achieved or how high the career ladder has been climbed. Beyond the fulfillment of basic existential needs, material possessions such as the size of the house or the balance of the bank account are irrelevant to the further path.
Everything depends on our perspective on the first half of our life: bitterness is stuck in the past. The notoriously grumpy Viennese even have an expression for it: “Hättiwari” – litterally translated “Hadda-woulda”. “If I had married Anneliese then, I would have…” “If I had taken this job then, I would be…” We know this and its consequences: lamenting doesn’t change anything and there is no way back. It only drains energy and leads to bitterness.
There is a special key that opens the door to wisdom: Gratitude. Those who smile at the thought of their life path will appreciate what they have experienced as their personal source of wisdom and will gladly pass it on. It is not always just about beautiful experiences or successes. A fitness studio recently advertised with the slogan “Successes make us proud, defeats make us stronger”. After all, our defeats were always associated with learning experiences. For the further development of the next generation, these experiences are even more valuable than our old heroic tales.
We are not getting younger, we are not getting faster and we will eventually die. Until then it is up to us to welcome each day with a smile and enjoy it in the here and now. The young ones will thank us for that.
How about you?
How far advanced is the hand on your life clock?
Have you ever sunk into “Hadda-woulda”?
How grateful are you for your life?