Aging and cultivating a sense of place: 5 ways to increase your sense of belonging


In many parts of the world people live and die within a radius of 5 miles. In others the name of the game is move after move as people change in their careers, interests and family commitments. As we age we often stop to assess many things, particularly how we feel about the place where we live. We may be more rooted to where we are or we may be yearning to reinvent ourselves somewhere else.

How do we know when we are in a place where we can thrive for the last third of our lives? It comes down to having a sense of place.

What is a sense of place?

People’s sense of place varies. We can describe a sense of place as being the underlying feeling of belonging and attachment we get when we are in a certain location. There is a sense of being valued and engaged. Factors that can contribute to our attachment to a place not only involve family and social relationships but also are related to culture, language, geography, climate, urban/suburban/rural setting, access to nature, the political persuasion of the populace, etc.

For instance, we may feel much different in a small rural village in India than we would in a large city in the US. How different cities or rural areas affect us can also vary widely with each individual. We live in a global village but culture and sensibility are extremely different from place to place.

I will use my own experiences as an example. I feel most at home in Sonoma county just north of San Francisco. I lived for many years in SF but, as I’ve gotten older, the city no longer fulfills the need I have for warmer weather, quiet and exposure to nature. When I was in the city I lived in a neighborhood where most people knew me- in the grocery store, the cafes, the restaurants, the night spots. I felt a sense of community there. As I aged my needs changed and I relocated to a place I felt comfortable in and had visited often.

The question remains: Do I have a sense of place now? Yes and no. It takes time to develop connections and to feel that you are part of a network. I’m still working on it. It’s not as easy now as it was when I was younger.

Why might this be?

In a general sense, as people age it becomes harder to make new friends. Friendships require cultivation. We become more set in our ways. We also have less opportunities for social activities outside of the family that bind people to one another such as school and work. We go out less to social functions. Our opportunities to create community become more limited.

How can we maintain or restore our sense of place?

We all change and evolve. This takes work but is more than worth it. I like to look to others I know who are actively striving to create a meaningful life in a place that they have an affinity for. Here are 5 ways that people I know and respect are creating their place in the world as they age:

1.) Rethink your notion of work. A friend of mine is staying put in his home and is retiring. He loves his home and the area in which he lives. He is reinventing himself in a new career that he had pursued in the past but didn’t have the time or energy to pursue while he was working. This will demand that he get out of his comfort zone and network with like-minded people.

2.) Renew old friendships. This same friend has also been instrumental in organizing an online social network of a group of his former co-workers who have not seen each other in 20 years. This has led to a reunion and will bring people from all over the country together again but, even more importantly, is already leading to renewed friendships among the people who remain in the same area.

3.) Be open to putting yourself to work in another part of the world. I have a friend who is an example of someone who has not let his age dictate his social or work sphere. He continues to take on new challenges and meet new people. He travels widely and recently spent time teaching in India.

4.) Be willing to uproot yourself to pursue an adventure. Another friend has sold everything and is about to travel in the US and Mexico in an RV with her husband and mother. She expects to visit her friends, make new ones and settle somewhere that speaks to her.

5.) Find satisfaction in doing something well in a place where you’ve always been. My Godmother provides a good example of this. She is now 86 and has lived and worked all her adult life as a clerk in a medical setting and as a telephone operator in a boys’ home. She finds a lot of satisfaction working in these jobs because her involvement with the patients and residents goes way beyond her job description. She looks forward to working and the clients look forward to seeing her every day.

Essentially, what I have learned from these and other friends, is that we can open ourselves to change, adventure and community wherever we choose to land. A sense of place can be where you are right now or where you end up going. It’s a journey that never ends until you do…

The day after Mother’s Day: Taking time to say thanks to non mothers


Now that we’ve passed that time of year when we give our mothers’ credit for all they have done for us I think we need a day for all those women in the world who are not mothers. Who are they you might ask? Just look a little harder in your family and social circle and you will find them. They are your aunts, Godmothers, sisters and mentors. And, I would bet, they feel a little bit left out every year.

Why would any woman not be a mother? Well, really, there are two ways this can happen, by choice and by happenstance. Some women actually do not want to have children. They are satisfied with letting other people do it. You might think that this is a selfish choice but it really can be as unselfish as mothering. For others, circumstances did not provide for the opportunity. Many of these women either help mothers raise their children through a kinship network or go into a career in which they help others: social work, nursing, teaching. Or they may be a mentor to someone for a period of time during their emotional development or career path. Of course there is a lot of overlap in these roles.

What I’m getting at is the importance of acknowledging these other women in our lives who have contributed greatly to our well-being. Personally it took me years to get this myself. I celebrated many Mother’s Days before I realized that my Godmother had been there for me all of my life and had been a role model as to how to be a strong and independent woman. Once I woke up to this, especially after my mother passed on, I have been in contact with her regularly and I do my best to honor our connection with each other throughout the year.

The same could be said of a female mentor. There may be someone who has shepherded you through a difficult time in your life or in your career. That person was instrumental in how you are doing in the world right now. She may be older and in need of support herself at this time. Are you willing to participate in her future as she has participated in yours? Think about it- the need may be greater for her because she does NOT have children.

In the United States we tend to be very insular and gravitate to the family unit. We lack the cohesiveness that other societies enjoy. Undo some of this. Give back to a woman (or man for that matter) who has given to you. Acknowledge them and show your appreciation. This is how you create community.