On the whole, I’m much happier in my second quarter century than I ever was in my first. There are definite advantages to being older. However, there are also some down sides, such as dealing with medical issues brought on by time and feeling left out or out of date when some enthusiastic younger person tries to explain to you the latest fashion, cultural trend, or electronic gadget. Today I’ll spend a little time discussing things an adult pushing 50 might have to address that occur in the process of getting older. You younger folks can tune out if you want to…your turn will come later. 🙂
Unexpected Medical Issues
We all get them, at any age: colds, flus, broken bones, random injuries, or unexpected illnesses. Some medical issues, however, are brought on purely through the process of getting older. A few weeks ago, for example, I started getting a ringing in my ears. Today I learned that I’m just experiencing an early onset of age-related hearing loss. Some of the tiny hairs in my auditory canal are bent out of shape and sending the biological form of static to my brain. Yaaaa hoo.
The best thing you can do is to take care of your physical needs to the best of your budgetary ability. I can still hear, mind you, just not high-pitched sounds at low volume; and I’m distracted by an annoying squeal in the background, akin to a test pattern tone at a higher octave. Not amused, but welcome to adulthood.
Falling Out of Date
This one is inevitable, and can even happen to people in their late 20s: technology (and the rest of the world) just moves too fast for everyone to keep up with everything. Even innovators and early adopters of the latest gadgets or software can be blindsided by some new technical toy…and heaven help technological late majority/laggards like me!
There is, of course, a cure, and that is to stay current on the latest technologies that can affect your direct line of work. If anything, it’s a self-defense mechanism to keep you from being blindsided by some new toy your leader, customer, or peer wants you to try.
Clashing With Younger Generations
What actually spurred this topic was a chapter in a book I just finished reading called The Laws of Human Nature. One of the last chapters deals with the never-ending challenge of the “generation gap.”
It can be a fine line to walk if you want to keep up with younger generations; however, it’s worth the time to stay engaged with them and learn what’s on their minds and how they see things–culturally, technologically, or operationally. There can be a danger, however, in going too far, such as by trying to wear fashions that are “not you” and belong on a body twenty years younger. You might, in fact, look great; however, you might be perceived as “trying too hard” or “having a mid-life crisis.”
In the introductory paragraph, I linked to an older post about how people of a certain age/generation can perceive and use technology differently either because they’re unfamiliar with it or didn’t grow up with it and so don’t consider it a “necessity.”
Still, by the time I reached an age where I started having younger coworkers around, it because painfully clear that they thought more quickly than I did, if only because they didn’t have as much experience and other data clogging their neurons. They were more audacious about trying new things and taking unprecedented actions because they weren’t as used to the caution that can come with stepping out of bounds.
Younger (and older) people also see the world differently just because they saw historical events at different times in their lives. While my memories of the first Gulf War, the Challenger disaster, the Iran Hostage crisis, and Jonestown were visceral to me, they were minor blips to older peers who had the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Vietnam War in their memories. And all of that was ancient history to younger peers, who had their impressionable years shaped by the Y2K issue, 9/11, the second Gulf War, the Columbia disaster, and the 2008 economic crisis.
If you’re ever taken off guard by the reaction of someone in a different generation, the best thing you can do is ask how they are perceiving a situation. What history are they drawing upon? What life lessons? What perceptions? Understanding how different generations see the world can open your mind to other perspectives. So here’s a wild idea…just talk to people! Even a middle-aged guy with mild squealing in his ears can do that.
Talking About Retirement
For some perverse reason, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) thinks it’s a good idea to start inviting people to join their ranks around age 50. Mind you, most people can’t start collecting Social Security until age 62, and the average retirement age in the U.S. is 63, so AARP might be pushing it by a decade or so. Even so, the little mailer from their organization usually prompts the question: are you ready for retirement? My finance guy tells me yes…as long as I retire by age 70 or more. And if you live long enough, some companies or industries might force you to retire whether you’re ready or not. In this case, the little card from AARP might serve as a good reminder–especially to those of us who are, say, 20-ish years from retiring–that it might be good to have a plan in place under the assumption that you’ll live longer than your productive career.
This hasn’t hit me yet, but there are plenty of stories out there of older people who find themselves out of a job sooner than they’d like simply because they’re perceived as “too old” to do a job. As with technology and culture, the best things you can do are to keep yourself current and to keep expanding and deepening your skill set.
Some employers, looking only at the bottom line, will seek to hire someone half my age because they don’t charge as much. However, if you keep making your skill set useful and expanding industry-specific insights, there will be those who are willing to pay for a specialist because they want their product to be written by someone who knows what they’re doing.
In Defense of the Gray Hairs
I’ve thrown out a lot of hard facts of life here, but I’ve tried to leaven those facts with some hope and strategies that should help with Time’s patient, relentless assault. In some ways, it requires that you continue thinking like a younger person even when your body is telling you that you’re not 19 anymore. So what? You need not get defensive about the march of the clock and the calendar. It happens to all of us, you might as well make the best of it.
©2018 by Bart Leahy