This post is a modification of one that ran originally May 25, 2007. It fits within the theme of the current thread, Maslow 101, because one of the most important claims he made about self-actualizing personalities is that they experience changes in value systems.
I’ve heard marketers tell audiences from the podium that values remain constant throughout life. That’s necessary to retain a personality that behaves in consistent fashion. Well, that may sound logical, but it’s wrong. Values change as time and experience change in our lives. What we expect from life changes as the years add up. We look less to materialistic sources for life satisfaction and more toward experiential sources, less to self-indulgence and more toward helping others. Even the past looks different from the present it once was.
Growing old is not about experiencing declines and losses and ways of softening the impact of aging on our mental and physical systems. It does not call for aging creams and beefed up exercise routines and saying no to a bowl of Haagan Dazs ice cream when you really want it. It is about continuing your personal development. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs is based on the premise that personal development is a lifelong effort. This becomes apparent to people who have gone through an orderly life review.
If you tell me your stories, I will tell you mine, and together we will bear witness to the value of the struggle.
Nostalgia is becoming ever bigger in marketing. Radio stations devote playlists entirely to music of three, four or more decades ago. The PT Cruiser was an unabashed attempt to capture the 1930s in its design. Retro is appearing everywhere as marketers look for the key to boomers’ wallets.
But approaching boomers through the lavender mists of nostalgia is not the only way – or even the best way to get their attention. After all, we should not forget F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wry comment that “Nostalgia is a sentimental remembrance of things that never happened.”
Ameriprise’s clumsy attempt to reach boomers through invoking the tumultuous 1960s and ‘70s came to be regarded by many boomers as an exercise in pandering. No, nostalgic reveries are generally better left to the individual than to a squad of advertising creatives.
On the other hand, the second of Carl Jung’s Seven Tasks of Aging – life review – can have a deeper effect on many people than nostalgia does, especially the older they are.
Life review involves a critical examination of one’s life leading toward reconciliation between the sweet and the sour in life. It is a process for removing regret and anger from one’s worldview.
Writer Julien Ryner captures the essence of life review in talking about her experience in helping seniors develop their life stories:
In the eight years I've spent encouraging seniors to write about their lives, not a single individual has rejected the life discovered when examined. The irony of the search is that, in looking, we find self-understanding, and through this new understanding, we find self-acceptance and peace of mind.
Ryner and others with intimate familiarity of the life review process have seen the healing effects of confronting issues long since buried in the psyche that call for attention. Experienced life review docents have a different picture of aging boomers than many self-styled “boomer experts” have.
Remember – the most important things a marketer should know about boomers cannot be learned learn through traditional research methods. Deep understanding depends on knowledge of adult development in the later years. If you haven't turned 60 yet, and have never delved into the field of adult development in the later years, chances are you have some learning to catch up on.
I’ve been told that one of America’s best known boomer gurus advised Ameriprise on its ill-fated nostalgia campaign. There was a bit of irony in that outcome, given that this "expert" on aging boomers is a boomer. However, being a boomer – even having been a participant in love-ins, peace protests and round the clock rocking partying – doesn’t guarantee that you understand your peers – or even yourself.
But representing the past in the context of Jung’s task of life review is a matter quite different from wallowing in nostalgic reverie. Pursuit of this task is not about turning over in one's mind mawkish depictions of one’s youth, Instead, it's about abstemious reflections on life during the highly charged years of life's summer. This mandate for this task is not to relive the past, but to seek a keener understanding of the self by viewing the past through a translucent lens ground by the grit of life experiences. The operative word here is reality.