Seniors, Pass on What You Know While You Can

We tend to think we have more time than we do

Posted Oct 17, 2020

McMurryJulie, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: McMurryJulie, Pixabay, Public Domain

Many seniors reach a point at which they’re too sick or too tired to make the effort to pass on what they’ve learned over their lifetime.

Please, if you’re still in reasonably good shape, remember that sharing what you know is an excellent way to add meaning to your life and have it extend beyond.

The following may help you realize how much you, even if you’re “nothing special,” could pass on to friends, family, and colleagues.


Even if you are/were just average on your job, there’s much you know that could be passed on, not just to beginners but to peers.

Let's say you were an administrative assistant and a just-average performer. Are there things you've learned about multitasking, editing, scheduling, and managing your boss?

Personally speaking, among my life’s more rewarding experiences is volunteer-teaching in the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. Although I’m not an MD, I’m now in my sixth year teaching medical students. I share what I’ve learned about how to establish trust, listen to patients. observe carefully, ask questions, make probabilistic diagnostic inferences, and assess the risk/reward of various interventions, including watch-and-wait. It is comforting to me that these skills, which I’ve acquired from having worked with 6,000 career and personal advising clients, will not die with me but live on in the bright, motivated young students and are just beginning their career. I am not alone in this. UCSF has a couple dozen volunteer faculty, most of us in our 60s and 70s, and at our get-togethers, it seems that all of us are glad to share what we know even though we are unpaid. Indeed, many of them have been doing it longer than I have.


Parenting may be the most important subject they don’t teach in school. Parents generally must learn by trial and error, perhaps helped by books or articles. If you’re a parent, even a far-from-perfect parent, you’ve likely learned a lot about what works and doesn’t, at least with your kids. Alas, parents tend to be defensive about getting input from others, including and maybe especially from relatives, but I believe that tactful, face-saving offers of input can yield much benefit without antipathy. For example, let’s say you’re visiting your grandkids and you repeatedly see the parent saying no and then the kid whines until the parent gives in. I believe it is appropriate for you to say something like, “I’m sure it’s frustrating to have to deal with that. I’ve also had to. How would you feel about my sharing what’s worked, at least pretty well?” They’ll often assent, after which you might say something like, “When I say no, I won’t let whining work. If they start to whine, I’ll quietly and briefly say, ‘No because X’ and then ignore all the child’s subsequent entreaties. I might even walk out of the room.” Of course, it helps if you offer, not just suggestions, but positive comments,


When I was a young man, I made quite bit of money playing keyboards at weddings and bar-mitzvahs. Completely ignorant of investing, I went to Merrill Lynch, whereupon the broker promptly starting churning me: "Buy, buy!  Sell, sell!” Those were the days of high transaction commissions, so he made good money each time I “bought, bought,” and “sold, sold.” My father then passed on to me what he learned: the value of low-cost mutual funds. Since then, things have gotten better for me. What do you know that could save someone grief: Investing? Spending? How to improve a baseball swing? Shortcuts to keeping your home clean? With whom might you share your acquired wisdom?

The Big Issues

For those, there are no definitive correct answers but your perspective might enrich people’s thinking. Do you have carefully derived views on such issues as politics, economics, religion, materialism, charitable giving, justice versus mercy, and yes, the issues of our time: race and gender? To whom and in what way might you share your perspectives? I share them informally with family and friends but would welcome the opportunity to speak to groups about them. Indeed, having written this paragraph makes me want to offer a virtual meetup in which I do so.

The takeaway

It’s a cliché but true that life is fleeting. Most old people lament how fast it has gone. If you’re fortunate enough to still have the energy and motivation to pass on what you’ve learned, I urge you to do so.

I read this aloud on YouTube.