Starting in July 2012, I began interviewing women I consider to be very wise. These are women I know, in my circle of acquaintances, in my community, people I admire as wise women. All of them are over seventy. I talked to nine of them, although I know many more. I asked them each the same twenty questions about life wisdom and recorded their answers. I call this my “wisdom project."
Are women wiser than men? No. I know plenty of wise men, as well. But let’s face it: Men are more likely to lecture, sermonize or write about what they know. Women tend to transmit their thoughts one-on-one, to their children or to people who come to them for advice. Most of the women I interviewed would never have given a lecture or written a book about their insights into life. In fact, several of them denied they were wise – and then proceeded to give me some absolute gems.
Why focus on older women? I know middle-aged women who are pretty wise, too, but I deliberately selected older people. Why? Partly because I happen to know an amazing number of sages over seventy. But I had another reason, too.
Women at midlife face a lot of choices and challenges. When the kids leave home and the nest empties out, their mom faces a question of identity: “Who am I, now that I’m not a day-to-day mother?” This midlife transition is especially intense for women who stayed at home and raised their children full-time. Sometimes women retire from their initial career at midlife and pursue a different type of work, paid or unpaid. A high-paid consultant starts her own consulting company. A poetry lover takes a job at a local bookstore. A biology teacher quits her job and takes up full-time volunteer work. One woman takes up acting, including paid jobs for television commercials. Another goes back to school and gets a master’s degree in something she never studied before. Another sells her company and decides to fix up houses instead.
Life’s path after age fifty is uncharted territory, especially for women. We are living longer, healthier lives, so it’s now possible to begin a new career at midlife and keep at it for twenty or thirty years. Where do we look for mentors, wise women ten or twenty years older who have made a midlife transition? What can we learn from their experience? What life questions can they help us think through?
As a whole, I think we as a society tend to overlook the wisdom of women – especially older women. I’d like to be part of the movement to rediscover this.
Sages. Wisdom of the sages? That’s got a ring to it.
Have you ever sat down with an older person, man or woman, and asked about life experience? What wise insights did you pick up? What midlife challenges do you face?
I hope this book will inspire readers to start their own wisdom projects!