Taking the Plunge Into the Next Decade of Life with Lessons from The Legacy Project

Stating the obvious: Life is short. Live it well.
As the end of the year - and my 30th birthday - approaches, I find myself growing pensive and I ask: am I living the best life that I can possibly live? Not every journey requires you to travel. The most important voyage you embark upon is life itself, and learning how to navigate its ups and downs with grace, humility, and humor, is the ultimate travel perk. And so, in the spirit of learning the secret to living The Good Life and ensuring that the next decade will be even better than the last, I ran a basic google search on "how to worry less" (you have my permission to laugh) and stumbled upon The Legacy Project, run by Cornell University. It is a collection of surveys asking Americans over the age of 70 one basic question: "What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?" The answers, without a doubt, will humble you. They are filled with the simple understanding that no matter how hard life gets (and believe me, some of these folks have been through seriously tough times), it is, and always will be, good... but only if you do the heavy lifting.

My own grandparents taught me a great deal about love, loss, and how to be content with what you have. This is my grandmother, Pirinka, in Paris. She taught me how to savor life without feeling guilty when it's good - 
because it won't stay good forever.  
Here is some advice that really stuck with me - my "elder mantras," as the Legacy Project's founder calls them:
  • From Jane, 90, who couldn't go to college because of WWII and struggled financially for most of her life, on gratitude: "Life isn’t fair. I believe it is important to have arms outstretched, one hand up—, holding one hand up to the person who is giving a you a lift up— and one hand down, giving some[one] else a helping hand up."
  • From Gladys, 89, one of the first female commissioned officers in the Navy during WWII: "Material things are useful, but good relationships with God and the people around you make life worth living. I taught in the depth of the 1930′s depression. Poverty is not a lack of money. It is a lack of skills."
  • From Manuel, 79: "What you do when you’re young, it will hunt you up when you get old.  If you’re young,  take care of your body and live right and go to the doctor and keep your self in good shape. And don’t abuse your body in any way, shape, or form..."
  • And, finally, a nugget of wisdom from the Top 10 list# 8: "Happiness isn’t a condition that occurs when circumstances are perfect or nearly so. Sooner or later you need to make a deliberate choice to be happy in spite of challenges and difficulties. One elder echoed almost all the others when she said: 'My single best piece of advice is to take responsibility for your own happiness throughout your life.'"

Most of our generation is now separated from our elders, whether by distance or death. In their absence, The Legacy Project is a treasure trove of priceless advice based on the most invaluable teacher of all: life. I'm looking forward to another decade of developing wisdom that I might one day share with the younger generation (assuming I actually acquire any, of course), and I encourage you to browse through our elders' stories for your own inspiration. You won't be disappointed.

Yours truly, one marvelous decade at a time,


The road ahead leads to uncharted territory. Here's to blazing our own trail through the vast unknown.


Zeidy Martinez said...

I love this piece. It is a beautiful reminder that "happiness" is a state of mind and to remember to enjoy the good moments and endure the bad because they will come and go.

Radina Valova said...

Thanks, Zeidy! So true.

Lucidfood said...

Awesome, Radina. Thanks for personalizing the Legacy Project for me. That last bit of advice on happiness in priceless. Happy belated birthday! -Louisa

Radina Valova said...

Thanks so much, Louisa! I agree, that's my favorite bit of advice, too. Truly priceless!