Being a pragmatic optimist is key to achieving whatever you set out to do - and your lived experience as someone over 55 gives you a prime opportunity to maximise this mindset.
Adventurer and environmentalist Tim Jarvis AM shared his thoughts about ageing, making the most of life, resilience and leadership at Reimagine Ageing - COTA SA's International Day of Older Persons forum on September 27. It aimed to encourage older people to reconsider their perspective on ageing and find purpose, regardless of their age.
Tim provides sustainability advice to companies, has authored three books, is a filmmaker and has masters degrees in environmental science and environmental law.
He has recreated the historic Antarctic journeys of explorers Sir Douglas Mawson and Sir Ernest Shackleton. One trip retraced Shackleton's rescue mission after the ship Endurance became trapped in pack ice and sunk in the Weddell Sea off Antarctica in 1915. All 27 voyagers survived and were rescued after the ship's lifeboats were used to reach the inhospitable Elephant Island and a selected smaller group made a voyage to seek help at South Georgia Island - some 1300km away.
Like Shackleton, Tim refers to himself as a pragmatic optimist - having strong belief in an idea and willing to pursue it, and equally considering realistic ways to achieve it.
"When the ship went down, he [Shackleton] didn't say 'We're all doomed', but neither did he say 'We'd all be fine'. He said 'Things are not good, however here is the plan; this is what we can do to get out of this situation'.
"He was a pragmatist - he said 'If you do this and I do that, we all pull as one and we can get ourselves through this situation'.
"I too am a pragmatic optimist; I'm faced with lots of issues that I'm trying to deal with - with climate change and loss of biodiversity; I'm 57, I'm just getting started."
Tim said by the time people get to this age, they are reaching the peak of their powers.
"Hopefully you retain some idealism to still get things achieved, you've still got the energy to do it, to contribute something, but you've got all that mental capacity to understand how to work with others, to read people, to know who you are as a person, to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, to bring in others to help you on that journey.
"I really think at this age, you've still got the strength to get things achieved; it's just a question of finding that 'thing'."
Tim said it's important to define your purpose first and consider the process later so you have a clear idea of exactly what you're aiming for and why, and can refer back to that as obstacles come up.
He said the method - or "how" - to executing anything in life is about first saying "yes" and taking the first small step in the right direction. Then momentum will carry you forward.
"Sometimes saying 'yes' is more difficult than taking the first step."
The second thing is to work back from the thing you're trying to achieve: "Put in place what you think it will take to get the job done... what you need to know, the people you need to help achieve that goal.
"The expedition philosophy is put a goal in place and (then) put in place the things designed specifically to try to achieve that thing... rather than take a step in the right direction and hope for the best."
To manage feelings of being overwhelmed, Tim suggests breaking tasks into smaller, achievable chunks, and using tangible means - for example photographs - to help you observe and track your progress.
About 200 people attended the forum.
Kaurna and Narungga elder Uncle Michael O'Brien gave a Welcome to Country, and reminded it's important to let people give people ownership of information - without directly handing it to them - so they can look for and work out what they need.
COTA SA deputy president Anne Burgess AM led the panel, which consisted of community advocate Mary Safe, Turkish Association of South Australia president Tanya Kaplan OAM, SA Health Office for Ageing Well executive director Cassie Mason and LGBTIQ+ activist and historian Will Sergeant OAM.
Mary spoke of channelling the grief following the death of her daughter Amy Gillett in acycling crash into education and advocacy for cycling safety, which led to a foundation named in her honour, plus other projects.
"I'm putting the grief to work; the grief is working for me," she said.
Tanya shared her experience of migrating to Australia in the early 1970s with no English, no interpreter services and finding her husband at the time had bought a farm in Murray Bridge. She thought she was going to live with horses, like in the 1950 American Western film Dallas, only to find out she'd be growing tomatoes.
"I'd never seen a tomato bush in my life," she said. But, she went on to become SA's biggest tomato grower, learning how to spray, prune and pick. Tanya later took on roles in aged care and education, feeling inspired to help others.
Will described himself as an "unreconstructed gay activist" and shared a harrowing story about taking up work in 1972 to raise money for aversion therapy to "cure" him of his homosexuality.
"Then I had the realisation: accept yourself, accept your nature, but I didn't know about how to go about it."
He attended his first Adelaide Gay and Lesbian Liberation Front meeting, and it changed his life. His alter ego Gertrude Glossip celebrates her 30th year in 2023.
International Day of Older Persons is on October 1.
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