Lessons Boomers Can Learn from Senator Kennedy

Senator Ted Kennedy was the last of the Kennedy brothers whose power, challenges and triumphs dominated a generation of politics. He was eulogized as an inspiration to his family and to those in public service. His body of work toward progressive causes in the U.S. Senate was proof that he understood how policies affected people. Caring passionately about the people he served, he worked tirelessly on their behalf.

Yet his life was marred by tragedy and scandal – from the assassination of brothers John and Robert and the earlier death of his brother Joseph in World War II, to the deadly Chappaquiddick crash. Despite his personal losses and failings, Teddy Kennedy persevered. He served alongside 10 United States presidents and was well known for his political insight. Another significant role he played was as patriarch to his brothers’ children and grandchildren.

Perhaps Senator Kennedy’s life situation was more complicated than yours. And you may not have to live up to that kind of a legacy. But as Sandwiched Boomers you must have your share of crises and challenges. What follows are practical tips to help you face them:

1. Evaluate the situation without overreacting or putting your head in the sand. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Yet avoid getting caught up in a pessimistic mindset that can result in higher levels of anxiety and poor decision making. Remain calm and stay focused on what you need to do.

2. Realize that support is valuable. Reaching out to others when you need encouragement helps you make it through what seems like an impossible situation. Confide in friends and family as you work through the difficulties. A second and objective opinion from a spiritual advisor or therapist can provide you with further insight and direction.

3. History is prologue. As you look back in review, consider how you have dealt with other major trials and tribulations in your life. Think about what has worked for you in the past. Take the specific strategies that you learned from those experiences and, once again, apply the most effective ones.

4. Recognize how you deal with tension. Avoid unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. Pressure and stress can bring about more conflict and arguments in relationships. If any of these behaviors are causing problems for you, find healthier approaches to deal with your negative feelings.

5. Difficult times can offer opportunities for needed change. Discover the many ways you can continue to build on your internal assets. Are you fiercely curious and determined to find a solution, no matter what? How can your strength of character and generosity of spirit benefit you in the present circumstances?

6. Set some long-range goals about what you want to accomplish as well as short-term objectives that will get you there. These concrete plans will provide the basic foundation for change. As you successfully move forward step by step, your self-confidence will grow. And incremental action, as well as a positive attitude, will motivate you to stay on track and ultimately reach your goals.

7. Gain perspective, whether you’re hit in the face with a crisis or making a slow transition into the next chapter of your life. Expect a cascade of feelings– anxiety, the desire to hold on, resentment, sadness, fear, even a sense of freedom. The emotional roller coaster ride is normal. If you have the fortitude to step back, take a deep breath and face the situation squarely, you can’t help but grow from the challenges.

Kennedy had personal failings but he worked hard to right his path. And over his lifetime he became a better man. Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said that he will be remembered for his strengths and his weaknesses: “There’s a great quote by Ernest Hemingway who said, everyone is broken by life but afterwards some are stronger in the broken places.”

Senator Kennedy was a study in strength sustained through struggle. You too can overcome adversity. If you’ve made mistakes, be prepared to acknowledge them and act responsibly. Don’t surrender to self pity and regret. As Kennedy often told his young son who lost his leg to cancer – keep fighting, you can do it. Tap into your spirit of resilience. And focus on your vision and the possibilities – you owe it to yourself.

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