It’s A Wonderful Life

Obituaries As History Lessons

I am likely not the only fabulousover60 woman who faithfully reads (online or off) obituaries in their local or favorite national newspaper.

No, I did not do this under 50 – maybe not even under 55 or 60 – but at this point, at 65, I do read them. While what could be argued to be somewhat obvious — the older one is the more ‘death is a reality’ rather than something old people do. For me it isn’t so much morbid curiosity (so how did this person die?) as much as considering others’ lives as a whole and considering what (if anything) would be said about me if I died.

Many of us super competitive boomers are, if nothing else, curious how others “did” versus ourselves in the overall game or journey of life. Did I contribute as much to my field? Was I as philanthropic? What about my famous recipe that hundreds adored every holiday? Will I be missed by a large number of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren? Or anyone in particular?

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When reading the New York Times, whose obituaries are often terrific history lessons, I gravitate to people in my own professional field such as the two from 2014 noted below.

Warren G. Bennis, an eminent scholar and author who advised presidents and business executives on his academic specialty, the essence of successful leadership — a commodity he found in short supply in recent decades — died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 89.”

I read his books, heard him speak, and used his expertise to help my own. Warren was an un-introduced to mentor of mine.

Lillian B. Rubin, a sociologist and psychotherapist who wrote a series of popular books about the crippling effects of gender and class norms on human potential, died June 17 at her home in San Francisco. She was 90.”

Dying in California clearly ups your chances of making the NY Times. That or it shows that smart people retire to great weather and blue states as they age.

Dr. Rubin used qualitative research — interviewing people – hundreds of them in some cases — to write her many books on aspects of adult development. In her later years she wrote often for the online journal Salon on issues of culture, politics and sometimes, but rarely, about the realities of aging. “Sixty is not the new forty” she wrote. Fabulous absolutely agrees with that point and has said so repeatedly.

*Speaking of death and dying, Cathy called to my attention obituaries’ (local ones) use of odd euphemisms to mean death. Here are some favorites: “ended her battle with cancer”, “entered heaven’s gates”, “peacefully passed”, “went to be the Lord”, “went to her rest” and Cathy’s favorite – “earned her wings”. That line was of course borrowed from It’s A Wonderful Life, the 1946 movie that encouraged people to think of being a good person before one’s death so you could “earn one’s wings” rather than just pass away (that is, die) when the time came.

Its a wonderful life

Mostly though, obituaries remind me of the very limited ways we are truly remembered. Even when famous it is nearly impossible to get more than a column or two. We have to make sure if there is only one thing to say about us, we plan our lives to make that one thing clear. Or maybe not. Actually, I really like something else about Lillian Rubin. She wrote at age 88 that she had mixed feelings about living at that age, and dying too. “Ambivalence reigns”, she wrote, “in death as in life.” Yes, Dr. it does.

Not Being Liked: A Woman’s Penalty For Success?

Recent research suggests that some of the analysis mentioned by Sheryl Sandberg in her efforts to get women more focused on their own professional success is no longer quite accurate. The recent Zenger Folkman’s research seems to indicate that likability and success go together with both male and female leaders.

Courtesy Forbes

Courtesy Forbes

During my career that began in the 70s, considering what others thought of me was an obvious goal. Competence always mattered — but colleagues and clients had to like me and be comfortable with me first — especially since I was a woman. Most working people valued and worked hard to achieve being liked and respected. In the age before social media, that meant either externally conforming to the aspired-to group, or working to demonstrate some widely regarded behavior of a good and/or successful person. Great leaders inspire respect — a little fear would be an example — and given the times, that meant mainly men. Or, to put it differently, there weren’t many women leaders period — to like or not like.
It’s not that I don’t hope the Zenger Folkman research isn’t correct — I believe that it is correct and changing all the time. Changing in the direction of men and women being “liked” for similar reasons of ethical, successful, competent behavior.
What had me worried for a while was the raging narcissism and undeserved self-love that workplace professionals developed in the last 10 years (did the recession make us nuts? My initial take is that it sure didn’t help!). People no longer seemed to care if people in general liked or respected them. Many people started wanting “likes” on Facebook more than the respect of others in the workplace–not bad of course, but little to do with liking, respecting or thinking well of people because they were seriously deserving of it.
I am certain now, that in retrospect, needing to be liked as much as we thought it mattered didn’t really matter as much as we thought. And that our own ‘over 60’ view of caring less and less about others’ opinions is due to age making us feel more entitled. Also because the culture overall has been saying over the last 10 years: “who gives a damn what anyone else thinks?” Neither is particularly admirable. You don’t have to have the respect of everyone… but no one?
But there does seem to be a limit to how disconnected and crazy self-involved people can become before a reality check happens. As more people seek to have lives of balance both professionally and personally, research on how to do that continues to circle back to the wisdom of the ages — albeit in new clothes. Being a person who is authentic, focused on achieving good for both themselves and others, who is healthy and happy and strong is returning as a definition of success. And that now pertains to BOTH men and women.
Maybe we could produce a new 2013 version of “It’s A Wonderful Life” with fewer core character changes than we thought would be needed just 10 years ago. People are learning what other smart people before them have — man or woman, being liked for reasons of character and substance is something worth striving for and this is, thankfully, actually what is happening for both sexes.

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