(This column originally appeared HERE in Gay San Diego, a SDGLN media partner.)
Advertising urges us to see aging as a failure. This is where role models and mentoring come in. When I was a young gay man, I saw very few older LGBT men or women who had lives that looked appealing. I’m sure they were out there, I just didn’t see them or know them.
A client gave me the phrase: “Lift others as you climb.” It struck a chord in me. After all, helping others as you grow and move up the ladders of success and happiness is a benefit to both you and the recipient of your largess.
If we all move up together and don’t leave anyone behind, what a major win that becomes for our community. If we move up ourselves and use it as an opportunity to feel superior to others who haven’t had our gifts, talents or good luck, we are sabotaging our community and making ourselves feel better at someone else’s expense. This is what insecure people do: they live out some version of “I’m so great and you’re a loser.”
Who is the loser then?
This sounds easy, but it’s not. How often have you been able to rejoice in someone else’s good fortune, or do you secretly look for some flaw in them that you can focus on?
Another way to lift others as you climb is to be a mentor. A mentor is someone that helps, supports and gives guidance to another person. It can be an older person mentoring someone younger or when a more experienced person teaches, helps and gives advice to a less experienced person.
A mentor has moved beyond preoccupation with self to foster the growth of the person being mentored. This relationship is good not only for the receiver, but for the giver. The mentor benefits in many ways: it is good for your self esteem to help someone else. It is very good for us older LGBTers to feel connected and appreciated by younger LGBTers.
If you want to feel alive and worthwhile, giving something back to your community is a great way to do so. Many people, as they age, become more rigid. They make their worlds smaller and smaller so they can feel in control. This is a perfect setup for an unhappy, bitter old age. Don’t go there.
Aging well requires expanding your world, not contracting it.
One of the best parts of getting older is getting wiser. Sharing your wisdom is a path to a happy elder-hood. After all, what good is wisdom if you keep it to yourself? Don’t you wish someone had mentored you when you were young, confused and trying so hard to figure out how the LGBT world operates?
Mentoring relationships can provide valuable support to young people. Mentors can help guide younger LGBTers through the difficult developmental stages that accompany the transition into LGBT adulthood.
Traditionally, mentoring was mostly about offering career guidance. But let’s take it further: mentors in our community can also serve as role models for leadership, interpersonal and problem-solving skills.
Mentoring is not using the illusion of helping to find a hot, younger boyfriend or girlfriend, or to get into someone’s pants. When mentors have these kinds of intentions, it makes it harder for anyone wanting to be a legitimate mentor to be trusted. If you want a younger partner, be clear on that. That’s not mentoring.
Elders of the community: be clear about your intentions and honest with young people on what you expect from them. Don’t drag mentoring into the dirt; keep it clean, honest and real.
Who do you want to be when you turn 50, 60 or 70? Bitter and cynical elders don’t get that way by accident. A lifetime of envying other people and tearing down others who are successful is the path to an unhappy older age.
Lifting as you climb is a great remedy to this: as you become older, wiser, wealthier and more successful, you reach out a hand to others to help them follow you on the path. Don’t you wish someone had done this for you?
Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Michael is currently accepting new clients. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.