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7 Steps to Becoming an Elder


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Close up image of African Elephant by Joel Sartore

A female African elephant (Loxodonta africana) at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo | Copyright Joel Sartore

The apprenticeship for the elder begins very young and continues over a lifetime.

I’ve always found the word elder a little strange. I’ve never had the ambition to become one, and I’ve never known for sure what one is. Yet many people I run into speak of elders with a hushed reverence, and recently a friend told me that the main point in growing older is to become one. On reflection, I can see that becoming an elder could be a good way toward feeling positive about growing old and doing some real good in the process. “Elder” means that being older is an honor and carries with it a particular role of quiet leadership and teaching. I’ve described my experience of an elder enriching my life, and based on that experience and a few others, I’d like to list some ways a person can take on this positive and needed role.  1: The first requirement is to be comfortable with your years. An elder is someone who is older. How you define the required age is relative. Some people can be elders in their 50s, perhaps, and others more convincingly in their 70s and 80s. My father was an elder in his 90s, and my friend Dr. Joel Elkes in his one hundreds. Whatever your age, you accept it and sp …

This piece is adapted from Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy, published by St. Martin’s Press.


Thomas Moore is the New York Times best-selling author of Care of the Soul, as well as many other books on deepening soul and cultivating a mature spiritual life, three of which have received the Books for a Better Life Award. At turns he has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, a psychotherapist, and an S&H columnist. 


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