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For years after I turned 55 I had no sense of aging's impact. I believed and acted as if I could do all the same things, look the same from behind my eyes and continue to learn and grow — to keep up with the times so to speak. There was a disconnect between how I perceived my self and any expectation that age could change me. This disconnect was often reinforced by feedback from my peers and colleagues.

The world of technology slowly began to influence how I worked as an educator/administrator. I realized that educational strategies for student learning were being rooted in the tools of technology. I remember how excited I was about the potential of technology, and I could see that the use of technology was accelerating. Then I believed I needed the latest personal computer (a bulky desktop), the newest mobile phone (a boxy hand-held one), etc. I also knew I had to seriously work to keep up with the many changes. 

As an educator I felt strongly that technology and its ever-changing tools were essential in the world of education, particularly in the professional lives of women. I remember that I insisted that my granddaughter have the latest computer and cell phone and have the skills to use them effectively. I was vigilant in teaching her and in knowing how her education included the technology component. At some point our roles reversed: she became the teacher and I became the learner. My struggles to master emails, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram et al made me understand that there was a generational gap. The time it took me to learn things was so much longer. My aging was negatively impacting my progress. I was not keeping up with the times well at all.  

Most of my life I recognized that I need to see the big picture, the goal, the end result of whatever project I undertook at work, any financial goals, home design or even a learning opportunity. Recently I was struck by the truth that my long-term outcomes were much shorter. I needed to reduce my future picture to 10 years out, not the 15- to 20-year timeframe I had used previously. 

The specific event that made this real was my plan to take each granddaughter on a trip abroad to a destination of her choosing. I thought college graduation would be the occasion, but I realized that it must be prior to high school graduation. I saw how my age would significantly limit my participation, so my long-term became three to five years. That was a real shock and only one of several plans in which my age could impact my life. 

What surprises me about aging is that my experience with this two-word link — surprise/aging — has been a continuum ranging from mild incremental surprise to an intense awareness about how aging impacts my life.

Gerry Ritter

A lifelong resident of North Carolina, Gerry Ritter is a retired educator and school administrator.

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