For your age…

…is supposed to be a compliment? Bah! 

Let’s start with some facts: All around us are examples of successful, productive individuals who are contributing just as efficiently as ever but are much older than previous generations. Many are being criticized for “holding back” the younger folks from moving up their ladders. Fact is they’re only holding their positions because they’re still getting the job done.

CEOs of major corporations are about 10 years older than CEOs were at the turn of this century. The leading sports stars in men’s tennis, football quarterbacks, professional basketball and baseball are full of examples still competing and winning at high levels. College presidents are working much longer than in the past. Our major national political figures are all significantly older than prior averages. 

I’m not saying this is all good or that a “changing of the guard” in some situations wouldn’t be beneficial, I’m just stating facts. For now. I’ll personalize this in a minute. While I’d like to attribute this entirely (confirmation bias) to more personal fitness training, sticking with the facts requires acknowledging first our vastly improved medical research, the availability of nutritional analysis (although it’s oddly not followed by so many), the improved lifestyles in developed countries and the resultant health benefits of the combination of all these.

It’s far more prevalent now but there are examples from the past: Gladys Burrill completed her 26.2-mile marathon at 92. Irma Rombauer wrote Joy of Cooking at 60. Pablo Picasso completed 347 engravings in one year at 87. John Glenn returned to space at 77. Mary Fasano graduated from Harvard at 89. Georgia O’Keefe was painting beautifully into her 90s. Frank Lloyd Wright was designing at 91. Ronald Reagan was elected at 73. Dr. W.W. Mayo founded the Mayo Clinic at 70. Benjamin Franklin retired at 82. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first book at 64 and then followed it with seven more of the Little House on the Prairie series. Mother Theresa won a Nobel Prize at 69. Anna Mary Robertson Moses’ first painting was at 76, and she was prolific for 25 more years. OK, that’s enough. 

But, way back in 1969, it was necessary to coin a new term due to workplace (hiring, firing, laying off, early forced retirement, denied raises, etc.) prejudices: Ageism. And today it’s still a reality. On a personal level, if you’re of an age that inspires it, you’ve heard it. Friendly comments about your age. Now I’m not overly sensitive to it or I’d be venting and ranting, but I don’t think it’s cute either. “You’re still working”? And to an oft-heard line: “I hope I’m in as good shape as you are when I’m your age,” I have many times replied: “Well, you’re not in as good shape as I am now, so you have decades to step it up.” I say it in a friendly way too because they don’t mean any harm and so they can be inspired if they choose, but I offer it as an in-your-face put down. “Act your age” is another one. What’s that actually mean? Stop having a good time doing whatever you’re doing? With whomever you’re doing it?

In our business, when collecting potential-client intake information, we don’t even ask age. It’s really not relevant. How hard do you like to work? Do you respond positively to being challenged or encouraged? Are you confident or unsure in this environment? Those and many more considerations are far more important. 

My personal Rx for society’s failure to accept the above facts and opinions is: Keep living any way you choose, find meaning and purpose, appreciate and celebrate these years while always remembering the contemporaries who didn’t get to have them. 

To live productively, having a positive state of mind is important, but the power of positive thinking has it backwards. Do something to think or feel positively about. Instead of having a false veneer, earn that state of mind.