Getting older sucks, but there are some useful benefits that come with age. It is our duty to leverage them in ourselves and in our mentors. Let us brainstorm the issue together. As a mentor for this article, I address Peter Drucker.
Recently I watched Jumanji 2 with my kids. The movie is very entertaining for kids, but as superlearners we can also use casual jokes for creative breakthroughs. When one of the heroes complains about his old age and then tells its a gift, this was an unlikely call for action in my case.
What is this gift and how can we leverage the situation? A disclaimer: I am currently 45 years old, so I am neither young nor old.
Math and philosophy
When I was a kid I read the research that claimed that all major mathematical discoveries were made by people below 30, and all the major philosophical works were written by scholars above 40 years old. I took this as a guideline for my own life, and around the age of 35 started switching from math to what we call KeyToStudy.
While there are some noticeable exceptions, a young age, middle age, and old age have different focus areas.
Youngsters have faster responses, better spatial skills, and more energy. These skills are important for math.
Middle age comes with better strategical thinking, greater focus, and organization and better attention to details. This is great for sciences like biology or chemistry.
With older age, we start to lose some visual skills, speed and focus. What we get is increased empathy, language skills, and patience. The extra experience is also helpful. This is very good for psychology, philosophy, and politics.
It is perfectly natural to start a new career around the middle ages. When asked about the best choice for a second career, Peter Drucker suggested some of the oldest professions out there: teaching, coaching, storytelling.
“What matters,” he said, “is that the knowledge worker, by the time he or she reaches middle age, has developed and nourished a human being rather than a tax accountant or a hydraulic engineer.”
Now, this second career is often more rewarding than the first one, because we do not choose it to impress or please someone else, but because we truly accept it our new identity.
On a similar subject, Adler said that our experience is not limited to university or on-the-job training, but includes all the roles we hold throughout our lives. Technology tends to change faster than humanity, and as we age a different kind of experience shines.
Learning faster as we age
Most of the people, most of the time learn worse as we age. This is a biological tendency that has to do with metabolism and neuroplasticity. To revert this tendency, we need a set of skills, resources, and strategies we did not necessarily have at a young age.
Clearly, as one of the authors of the KeyToStudy accelerated learning methodology, I ask you to train memory and speedreading. It will get harder as we age, but the benefits are also higher. A young man swimming every day will probably swim faster, but an old man swimming will preserve the quality of living and body tonus. Same thing with visual thinking. We want to slow down any possible degradation, so we should use it more.
We can also focus on complementary tools. Stories and dual encoding methods will improve long-term memorization. Slow and patient repetition of the information, will make us remember things better. Stopping after each article, to brainstorm about integrating it with our vast expereince will result in deeper understanding and integration in daily life. Everybody can do this, but age provides an advantage for the complementary strategies. And we also get more chances to teach others as we age.
Avoiding the rat race
Being young is hard. In our twenties, we need to choose a career and acquire both education and professional experience. In our thirties, we are too busy dealing with young kids, mortgages, and chores. Only after the middle life crisis we can think straight and see the second half of our lives. At that point, we find out that the rules of the game change: new technologies and social norms require us to develop new skills. This is easy for some jobs and damn hard in others.
As children grow up, we get more time. An interesting investment for this extra time is developing a second career, only this time focusing on mentoring others. People will instinctively tend to respect the experience that comes with age, and we can grow in a new role without competing directly with overly ambitious young people.
Prepare for the second career when you can not when you have to
One of my mentors used to tell “raise money when you can, not when you need it”. This is the best guarantee for your financial resilience. A similar common sense applies to training.
All the preparation for a successful career may take years. It takes years to learn basic skills and enough information to get certified. Building an online presence takes longer. Generating word-of-mouth sales takes even longer. All that time you will need to provide for yourself, unlike the college kids who get money from their parents. If you plan a serious career move for your 50th birthday, you can start to prepare for it when you are 42 years old.
The retirement is not such a great gift
Some people enjoy retirement, especially if they plan for it. Retirement is a great age for slow travels, spending time with grandkids, getting a hobby that will never pay off or going to the country club every day. You can learn languages, dance or swim carelessly. If this is not the life you want to live, retirement can be dangerous.
The most obvious retirement trouble is being stuck on a low budget with a sick or dead life partner. This is something very common for the elderly. Even if you are lucky to avoid it, simply being retired is an issue. When we work we fulfill a purpose, whether we like it or not. Life without a clear purpose can feel pointless and demotivating. Even if you built and sold a business and are a 30-years old millionaire, your situation is questionable: you might risk everything for a thrill.
Retired people are sick or depressed more often, and are even more likely to die. Resting for a month can be a blessing. After a year, you will probably desperately want a new job to go to.
What about the experience?
The experience we get is not directly growing with age. Staying in one job and living in one place can be very fulfilling, but the resulting experiences will be very limited. Constantly switching jobs or environments does not provide good conditions for deep and intimate connection, and is limiting in a different way. So probably we should aim for some sort of balance between work and life, focus and diversions, loyalty and openness.
If we lived a good life, our experience can be priceless, but then we need to leverage it properly. This article is biased towards mentoring and advisory positions where experience allows us to build empathy and provide deep perspectives, but this is not the only way to use experience.
When everything else fails, we can simply recollect the best or the most interesting moments in our lives, making our days more colorful. This is even better, if we can share some of our experiences with our grandkids.
Another great thing that comes with age is patience. We get more fulfilled by what we have, start to prefer small things over giant ones and can afford to spend a year on something that is worth our time. This could be beneficial for example in certain financial activities. Discipline is the best asset of any investor.
Young people need to run all the time just to stay in place, and need to run faster to move anywhere. We need to learn, build a career, build family, purchase a home, and then we need to support everything we built which is a huge challenge. With time, kids tend to build their own families, our jobs get less challenging and our life partners less demanding. Suddenly we have a lot of spare time but without additional focus or energy. It is possible to generate a different work-life balance and do more stuff we enjoy, or it is easier to acquire new skills, simply because we have more opportunities to practice.
Stay in shape
I left the most important tip for the end. As you age, you need to train more. Train both your brain and your body. To train the brain you can learn new things, play strategy games or simply do memory exercises. Swimming or other endurance-oriented sports will help you to stay in shape physically. Use your time and patience to practice smarter.
If you say the same thing in six different ways, your message will probably be remembered. I am afraid I started to repeat myself. So I will summarize:
- Train your brain and your body to stay in shape.
- Focus on generating balanced experiences and learning new skills before you get old, so that once you get old you are ready for it.
- You will be tempted to retire, but it is better to start a second career which leverages your experiences. Consider mentoring or coaching or advisory roles, but journalism or investment may also work.
- Leverage your patience, time, empathy and language skills to get ahead in the game.
- Spend more time with your loved ones and doing things you really care about.
- Do not give up on your dreams. Age is the price of wisdom.