HOW OLD ARE YOU REALLY ?
January 23, 2012 14 Comments
Henry Ford said
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. “
I am quite often surprised when I meet some young people straight out of University who are only in their mid-twenties but who seem to have an apparent age of about 60. They are already focussed on their retirement, counting down the number of years that they will have to work beforehand and calculating their retirement benefits based on comparisons of inflation and a non-aggressive work plan versus what they would get if they worked hard and had serious promotions and salary increases along the way.
They can often also seem limited in their outlook on other elements of life … their music is very bounded around what is “in” right now so classical music is for oldies, jazz is for no-one and opera is a joke. Their life contacts are very much focussed and limited to social media rather than personal contacts and they measure their popularity and social interactions on how many “friends” these provide.
In all, their lives seem extremely bounded, heavily constrained and very limited with closed horizons.
I contrast this with many people that I meet in their 60/70s and beyond who have no intention of ever retiring, are open to new things and are still full of adventure and the wonders of life around them.
I understand that I am sounding like a grumpy old man complaining about modern youth being soft and not able to “live in a paper bag in middle of road”, but it has made me wonder about how one should define age beyond just chronological age, and have decided that there are a number of criteria to use on deciding whether it is 60 or 25 which is the new 40, and determining “True Age”.
1. Health Age
Modern medicine and greater understanding of heath and exercise needs today mean that people in their later years are significantly fitter and are significantly more aware of the need to stay holistically healthy. Whilst retirement for my parents’ generation meant a more sedentary life, today most of my older friends are extremely physically active. They still do things like go hiking, go to the gym, watch what they eat (mostly without being obsessive) and still ski. We know one couple who in their 60s saw him walking to the south-pole while she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter. I understand that they are an exceptional couple by any standards but our ability to stay active and keep our bodies mobile is a serious element in determining our true age.
2. Financial Age
One doesn’t have to be rich, but having enough money available to do the things that we want to do, and to live life well in our later years, plays a significant part in the aging process. It is not just a question of being able to hop on a plane and jet off to new experiences, but it is also the psychological impact of removing the stresses that financial issues can have on one’s wellbeing. Money may not buy happiness (though it does seem to buy a better quality of misery), but it can play a significant role in determining what we are able to do in our retirement and hence strongly impacts our true age.
3. Emotional Age
I have long believed that most of us have an emotional age that we are most comfortable with, when life was so perfect that we hang on to its essence. I am not suggesting that we should continually hark back to it, but it is an age that we guard because of its meaning in our lives. No matter how much I age, I believe that I am still 36 years old, as 1981 was a year where so many parts of my life came together to create the chemical reaction that has made me the person that I am today. I had just gotten married and found my true partner who would not only share my future life but who would play a major role in shaping it, I was at my physically fittest, my career was on an upward trajectory having just been promoted to a regional role in DEC, which necessitated our move to Australia from NZ and which started our ex-pat existence and love of different countries and cultures. Recognising this emotional age is an important element in understanding our true age.
4. Friendship Age
Our circle of friends and acquaintances has a significant impact on our true age. Rather than closing membership on one’s club of friends, a large and growing circle of friends and family that are active and include you in their activities is a critical element in controlling the aging process. I feel that the circle also needs to be diverse and mixed and not just composed of people your own age, being one of the reasons that I really dislike retirement homes, where people are generally forced to mix with people their own age and infirmities. One of the reasons that I love teaching and working with start-up companies is that it forces me to work with people half my age who have not yet become life cynics and who still see more opportunities than barriers in business ideas and life in general. It is also why, whilst I do love Facebook, I am nervous when it becomes the main mode of connecting to people.
5. Challenge Age
It is critical that we never stop learning. How ready we are in taking on and facing new challenges and new ideas has a majorimpact on our true age. Too many older people start to narrow their lives and their attitudes as part of making their lives simpler as they get older. It is significantly healthier to keep taking calculated risks as one gets older, opening oneself up to new ideas, new people and new activities (See “Do something every year that scares you” posted July 13, 2010). It is a wonderful time to spread one’s wings as generally we are unencumbered with the all-encompassing blanket of full-time work enabling us to take control of our own calendars, which for many is a luxury that we have not had for decades.
As Mark Twain said
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.“