I overheard a couple of acquaintances talking about a person that they work with who was “older” and no longer contributing to their business. This person, in their opinion, apparently couldn’t, or wouldn’t, learn new skills—or for that matter, even keep up with the skill set needed to perform the job.
Age was mentioned and not favorably. They thought that this person should be “put out to pasture.”
I overheard the conversation, because the people conversing were talking in the adjacent room, while I was breaking down equipment from a presentation that I had just given. The two people, being officious and mean-spirited, had been attendees.
My presentation had been about what I considered to be the most valuable employee in any company—regardless of education, intelligence or tenure—the autodidact. This is a person who doesn’t have to be spoon-fed instructions on how to do a job. Autodidacts take it upon themselves to learn and master not only their required job skills, but others that may lead to better ways to do their job or new discoveries and opportunities for their companies. Autodidacts are powerfully motivated and disciplined people, who might not have a college degree, but who can ‘out-expert’ an expert just because they have spent hours and hours doing research, reading, reflecting and experimenting in an attempt to know everything that they possibly can about their subject of interest.
I finished packing the equipment and left the room. As I turned into the hallway, I ran into the person that they’d been discussing. I knew, by the mist in his eyes, that he had heard them talking about him.
And, worse? He knew that I had heard them, too.
No one, regardless of age, likes to be talked about negatively by others. But the older one becomes, comments such as “too old,” “dinosaur,” “not pulling his weight” and “needs to be put out to pasture or fired,” feel like a poison arrow through the heart. The man smiled at me. But his face couldn’t lie. It was a grizzled canvas of worry and insecurity displayed in a multicolored mural of embarrassment, covered with a life-weary resignation. It said, without words, “Maybe my days of being a positive force and contributor to this company—and even to life itself—are over. Maybe my worth is worthless.”
We stared at each other. No words were necessary. I hugged him. He shook. I did, too. He misted (real men don’t cry—we mist). I misted, too, maybe more than he did, but I turned so that he wouldn’t notice.
This article is for my dispirited friend—who eventually triumphed, majestically, by reinventing himself and staying relevant. But it’s not just for him. It’s for all the millions of other aging Americans who have heard, or will hear, the same thing someday.
YOU’RE TOO OLD
The only time that you’re too old to learn is when you’re dead. And even that, in my mind, is open to debate. Learning is a mindset. Life, no matter how you look at it, is a never-ending learning experience.
Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t. —Richard Bach
You, personally, have to figure out how to stay in a constant learning mode. You have to be willing to learn, unlearn, and relearn in a nonstop churn. No one can do it for you.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. —Alvin Toffler
In defense of the person who was slighted and talked about badly, with the supraluminal revolution in technology, social media and new web applications, just keeping up in business—for young or old—is a real challenge. Not easy. In fact, it can be overwhelming. But if you want to keep your job, stay relevant, add value and expand your life’s reach, at a minimum, keeping up is a necessity. You have to step outside your life’s comfort cocoon.
We know it’s easier to learn new things, more quickly, when you’re young. You have a lot of unused and uncorrupted space in your brain when you’re young. Your brain is not clouded with meaningless mental dross that’s been drummed into it for years.
THE TIMES WE LIVE IN
But true wisdom, on the other hand, that, comes only from experience. It can’t be taught, only experienced and then understood. It comes only with hard-earned years of living in the real world.
Now consider this:
- The aging demographics—the number of Americans 55 and older will almost double between now and 2030—from 60 million today to 107.6 million;
- Americans age 60 and up will increase by 70% in ten years;
- American life expectancy is at an all-time high and mortality rates are at an all-time low;
- The global economic crisis has wiped out, or severely impacted, many middle and senior-aged people’s life savings. Working long after retirement age is no longer just a luxury; it may be a necessity.
BUT HOW TO DO IT?
Some people are already feeling the pinch, working two and, even, three separate jobs to make ends meet. But really, if you live longer, is working longer that big of a deal? Is that so bad? Considering the alternatives? I don’t think so. But staying flexible, open to new ideas and relevant to the workforce that is a big deal—today and tomorrow.
HOW TO STAY R-E-L-E-V-A-N-T
So how do you stay relevant in your job? And not just relevant—how do you learn, grow, add value to any business or undertaking, and create a life full of meaningful experiences? Leave a legacy to be proud of when you cross the Great Divide to return no more?
I’ve had the great blessing to have worked with, written with, or interviewed, many successful people in this world. I’ve been around many charismatic effervescent folks in their 70s and 80s who are still successful and growing in their personal and business lives. One such friend is 89 years old and recently sold a screenplay for a six-figure sum. Eighty-nine years old and still telling and selling stories!
From best-selling authors to successful business leaders, I started to notice certain things that they had in common. There were certain ways that they approached things differently than others. Based upon these observations, I made a list of potential ideas to consider.
What do these people do to continue to be successful? How they stay relevant in business and life? Here’s what you can do to be like them…
Take the risk being wrong, if it can lead to good. Risk looking dumb, sounding goofy, admitting that you don’t know something. Risk acknowledging that you may be aging; but know that with focus and determination, all it means is that you’re becoming wiser and more valuable—in business and life.
Become your family, company, or business CEO—the chief experimenting officer. Experiment. Learn. Fail. Grow. For example, if you’re in PR, sales or marketing, you should always be at the front of the learning curve. Experiment. Act purposefully, each day, to learn something new, to stretch the boundaries of your mind.
Are you on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube or LinkedIn? If not, why?
Do you know what the Wearable Web is? No? Find out. It’s going to revolutionize the world, like Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized the free sharing of knowledge for all people and inspired the quest for liberty and freedom.
How about nanobots? Ever heard of them? No? Why not? Or neural implants to increase your focus, memory and knowledge acquisition? Surely, you have heard of these? Right?
We are on the cusp of magically wondrous and transformational times, being brought to us by dedicated inventors, entrepreneurs and autodidacts—times, where even the definition of being ‘human’ will soon be questioned. Where being endowed with superhuman strength and intelligence may just become the norm. And guess what? Age is not going to be that large of a factor.
LISTEN AND LEARN
Think. Listen. Question. Speak. Let those four pursuits occupy 100 percent of your time. If you do this, you’ll note that speaking equals only 25 percent of your time. Discipline yourself. Listen, think and question 75 percent of the time. If you have a big mouth like me, that’s a tough one. Read. Read a book a week. On diverse topics. Not just those that you’re interested in or are an expert on. I’m doing it, myself, this year and I have found it to be mentally invigorating (or soulfully eviscerating).
My first book in this new routine was Oswald Spengler’s “Decline of the West,” published in 1918. I tracked it down and read it only because it had a huge impact on one of my favorite communicators and, quite possibly, the greatest mythologist of all time, Joseph Campbell.
Joseph Campbell was fluent in German and studied at the University of Munich. He came across the works of Spengler and his theory was that civilizations rise and fall in cycles.
Much of Spengler’s theory, thought and research were later reflected in Campbell’s comparative mythology opus, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” I couldn’t wait to read it … until, I read it.
To be completely fair, it was palatably unpalatable. Like swallowing a dead snake that had been run over 1,325 times and had been lying on a desert highway for days. Difficult, but doable. Like eating army food.
I learned something important, though. Inspiration and influence are completely and, contextually, individual. What has extreme value and meaning to one person is completely meaningless or obtuse to another.
Work begins when you don’t like what you’re doing. Tension, a lack of honesty, and a sense of unreality come from following the wrong force in your life. As an adult, you must rediscover the moving power of your life! —Joseph Campbell
The “moving power of your life” is what resonates with you—and only you.
Engage. Jump in. Go for it. Do it. Act. Now.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. —Mark Twain
Engage. Reach out to other employees, customers, prospects and new friends via social media, face-to-face or other ways. It’s never been easier.
The more human and authentic that you are, the more fun and beneficial, it will be for all. And please, really reach out to the new and younger folks in your company or community.
Don’t be a dowdy-doubter, whining-whiner, or a nattering nabob of negativity. Stretch your mind. Have an honest willingness to listen and learn from everyone, even if they are half your age.
Don’t worry about conflict either. A doctor friend of mine believes conflict is good, but not ‘bad’ conflict. Cognitive conflict. What’s that? It’s a fancy term for ‘good conflict.’ Honest differences of opinion or points of view between earnest people wanting to do their best. When it gets aired out, good things happen. Actually let me rephrase that. Great things can happen.
There’s only one thing that you should never, ever, ever do. And that’s nothing.
Create value in whatever you do, whenever, and wherever you do it, even if it’s value only to yourself. Deliver value to your company, your customers, your friends, your family, and most importantly, yourself.
What is value anyway? Simple, it’s meaning. Something with unique meaning to the people involved. It’s something that they intrinsically value, despite the fact that others may scoff or laugh at it. Make meaning and you will make money, my friends. But don’t only make meaning, experience it. Experience meaning and you will be okay … even if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are turning into your driveway.
ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
I, first, heard the saying “attitude of gratitude,” on an audio book called “The Secret.” I’m not sure where the saying comes from, but I much prefer it to “attitude of crapitude.”
Life moves fast. People, places, moments in time—all come and go and then disappear, quickly, behind the foggy veil of memory.
And be grateful. God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.
Have you used one to say “thank you”? —William A. Ward
How hard is it, really, to take a few seconds out of the day to be grateful?
An attitude of gratitude is not a platitude. It’s everything. Your attitude is really all up to you and it has been since you were born. This takes constant reaffirmation. It’s tough. Adversity and resistance attack you every day. They will never stop. And nor should you.
NO TO NEGATIVITY
Just say no. No to negativity. It’s a cancer. Cut it out. What good ever comes of it … ever? Can you think of an example of one good thing that has ever came from negativity? Ever?
Say no to negative people. Negative situations. Avoid them. Find a way to attract and bring into your life people who are not only positive, but have happy, hopeful and joyous aspirations—you’ll know them by their actions.
From the backstabbing co-worker to the meddling sister-in-law, you are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. You can either give negativity power over your life or you can choose happiness instead. Take control and choose to focus on what is important in your life. Those who cannot live fully often become destroyers of life. —Anais Nin
Anais Nin is, existentially, too existential for me though, so that I prefer the George Foreman school of thought. I love George Foreman. He tells it like it is.
That’s my gift. I let that negativity roll off me like water off a duck’s back. If it’s not positive, I didn’t hear it. If you can overcome that, fights are easy. —George Foreman
Time. It’s free, yet, priceless. Infinite, but there’s never enough of it. It’s your most valuable asset, but it’s in a continual state of depreciation.
Time. Fleetingly fast. Patiently phlegmatic. The coin of life. Once spent, it can never be replenished, nor more earned. Ben Franklin perfectly summed the value of time in your life:
If you would not be forgotten by the time you’re dead and rotten, write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Lost time is never found again. —Ben Franklin
So how can you stay personally relevant in your job now and in the future?
Listen & Learn.
Attitude of Gratitude.
No to Negativity.