It’s a known fact that as we age, friendships often dwindle. Friends we no longer work with or attend professional organizations with gradually seem to fade away. Developing new relationships takes time and even researchers point out that as we age we become choosier about how we spend our time and with whom.
Add to this the fact that one’s intellectual curiosity and desire for continual learning often diminishes as we age. This leaves many individuals to become “knowers” instead of “learners” as they fail to take the time to keep their minds engaged by pursuing new knowledge and experiences.
Numerous studies show that close relationships with friends are vital to our physical health and longevity as we age and that continuous learning stimulates our brains and helps to stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Without consciously realizing these facts, six years ago I invited five women, from their mid-50s to late 70s, each from different professions and at different stages of their careers, to get together monthly for the specific purpose of continual learning. Along the way our candid discussions and commitment to attendance inadvertently established a unique bond of friendship and intellectual curiosity.
Today, should any one of us have a challenge in our lives it is without doubt that this is the group of women we would call upon to bear our souls. We call ourselves the “Green and Growing Group,” or GGs for short; named lovingly after my departed friend and mentor, Joe Charbonneau, a professional speaker who was well known for saying, “You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotten.”
Now in our sixth year we continue to meet monthly and tackle discussions about a variety of topics, varying from Life’s Greatest Lessons to—If you were dying, what would you worry about; Defining Success; Setting Boundaries; Economics; What is Happiness; or Now That You’re Transitioning, What is Your Purpose?
Through the years our discussions have been lively, diverse and most of all enlightening. Nothing much is off limits, except politics—we decided early on to put politics aside.
On the first Friday of each month we meet at my home, which is centrally located. Everyone brings food and/or wine as designated ahead of time. Once everyone has arrived we fix our dinner plates and gather around the dining room table for dinner and discussion of our pre-agreed upon topic. Whoever recommended the topic facilitates the conversation, which is normally quite lively and diversified. We’re there to learn from one-another without judgment or critique, yet fair debate is always welcome.
Once a year we devote one meeting to deciding upon the year’s topics. Everyone brings to the meeting a list of topics they would like discussed. All are listed, then ranked and voted on. A calendar is created for the remainder of the year with facilitators assigned to each month’s topic.
We are a small group of women whose primary objectives are to engage in conversations that provide a continual and expanded form of learning by discussing pre-determined, relevant topics. We focus on mental enrichment and enhanced self-awareness rather than any of the aforementioned areas such as business development. Although we began as mere acquaintances, the bond that has formed between us through these past five years has evolved to where we have become a unique group of trusted friends and confidants.
We believe that keeping a group such as ours small—perhaps no more than 6-8 is critical to its success.
We believe that from what we are seeing in articles about women in transition, we may accidentally have created an ideal format that others in transition may want to follow or adapt. Perhaps we’re not alone in our thinking because during our third year a reporter from Investors Business Daily heard about us and interviewed us for a featured article.
The writer began the article with: “Novalis, a German philosopher in the 1700s, contended that the highest purpose of the intellectual cultivation is to give a person mastery of his inner self. That’s exactly the goal of Green & Growing, a Dallas-based club of five professional women who meet once a month to discuss a variety of topics.” This writer sensed we were on to something needed as we begin to transition into retirement years and we are beginning to think she was right.
The latest thing that has happened to add to our learning journey is that a young woman in her mid-20s came to interview us for a cable television show. As this bright, young woman visited with us, she seemed to blend in as if she’d been a member of our group for years. At one point she expressed how nice it would be to have a group like us as her mentor. As you might imagine, a lively discussion ensued and in the end it was agreed that the best way to mentor her was to make her a part of our group—thus we are now six. What we’re finding, of course, is that this blending of the new with the old is simply enhancing all views and with this generational blending of knowledge we find that while she is learning from us, we too are learning from her. In the process, each of us is continuing to learn and grow.
We all love our GG group, but perhaps what one member said best describes it’s value:
“There is a level of intellectual intimacy that I don’t think could be easily replicated. Having a consistent group of women where personal and intellectual knowledge and insights builds over time, layering understanding over understanding as we explore things—it causes me to explore those issues/topics with myself as well.”
If our success with GGs has intrigued you, perhaps you’ll consider forming a similar group of your own. If you do, we think you’ll see the important role that continual learning and friendships play in transitioning to a meaningful, healthy and productive new life.