Conscious Aging: Am I the Same Person?

I’m curious about the durability of personhood, and so was attracted to this article in Quartz:

https://qz.com/914002/youre-a-completely-different-person-at-14-and-77-the-longest-running-personality-study-ever-has-found/

Curiously, fourteen was the age at which I lost my father — surely it was one of the more turbulent years in my life. I’m now 71, turning 72 in May. I get that self-reporting isn’t particularly reliable, although the study used self-reporting plus the feedback of a close friend or relative. But here’s my take:

The study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging and highlighted by the British Psychological Society,  examined six indicators of personhood: “self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn.” Perhaps surprisingly, the findings indicate that just as our bodies are transformed beyond recognition right down to the cellular level, so are our personalities. We are literally not the same person in our 70’s as we were at 14.

I agree. At 14, my self-confidence was in the ditch, and not just because of my father’s death. Fourteen is very early adolescence, or at least it was in 1959 — kids mature earlier today than we did then. I wasn’t very confident of anything, because the range of situations in which I’d been able to test myself wasn’t very large. I think I ranked pretty highly on perseverance. Mood stability? Nah, especially in the year after my father’s death when I struggled to see the world as other than a dark and unstable place. Conscientiousness? Yes, very. Combination of Catholic guilt and middle child thing. Originality? Not very. Desire to learn? Average.

And now? I’ve had a lifetime of situations — a good number of them very difficult — in which to explore my own capacity, resilience, and range of responses, and my self-confidence is pretty high. I know that I persevere. My mood is much calmer and more stable than it was as a younger person. I get that most things, given time, pass, and something new emerges. I’ve learned to wait for life to turn the page. Conscientious? Still. Originality? Much more so than when I was younger, because I have more life experience to draw upon and access to a much wider range of possible combinations. Desire to learn? If anything, I’m more passionate about learning because I’m aware of having less time in which to do so.

Take a look at the article, and see what you think about yourself. It’s fun, and affirming in its own way. Looking at life from the vantage point of age isn’t all that bad. I mean, who’d want to be fourteen forever?  🙂

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