What's age got to do with it? Everything. As a whole, those of us over 65 are using our later years to continue working and improve our communities. Presidents Biden and Trump rank #1 and #2 as oldest to ever win the presidency. Roughly 1/2 of congress is over 65 years of age. Our cohort is most likely to vote, least likely to not vote, and wealthier than younger generations. For better or worse only 24% of us intend to retire at 65 according to a Transamerica study. In other words, the country is politically and economically controlled by those of us over 65 and the future is in our hands.
What's age got to do with it? Nothing. Physical barriers are falling and boomers are redefining what it means to age. Healthier habits, exercise, and a stronger understanding of how to care for our bodies have contributed to greater vitality in later years. That energy is allowing us to explore our power and interests after raising a family or ending a career. Some coin the time between mid-life and very old age as gerontolescence. That term captures the energy that is often released when we face our mortality and have experience we want to share with the world or personal goals that we'd like to realize before it's too late. Another term is gerotranscendence. In a previous blog about the concept I quote Loretta Brewer of the Arkansas Geriatric Education center who explains that, "we can experience a breakthrough after 65 on how we view ourselves and our world that allows us to transcend our limitations and circumstances." Regardless what we call it good health and good fortune enable us to experience rich personal years after 65 and they fortify us with time and energy to make our world a better place.
In the interview below 83 year old Colin Powell uses his life experience to mentor leaders. "When you trust your people guess what happens?" he asks the audience, "They trust you and that's part of leadership. Building bonds of trust within an organization -so that it goes both ways; one team, one fight," he explains. That's a key to successful organizations and communities. The interview builds on Powell's 13 rules of leadership from the memoir, It Worked For Me in Life and Leadership. Some of those rules: Remain calm. Be kind, Share credit, and It can be done!
It can be done! is a good rule to remember as we stand at this crossroad in life. Technology, genetics, policy, climate change, the pandemic and our relations with one another press for our attention. What wisdom and experience will we summon as we face these issues? How will we lead our communities and families through these times? Can we maintain an optimism that we have the ability to resolve these issues, and that---it can be done! In the video below, 65 year old philanthropist and entrepreneur Bill Gates, offers his vision of how we can avoid future crises. Gates cites a sense of meaning and fun as motivations for being philanthropic in later life.
60 year old Cynthia Marshall was wondering what impact she'd leave in her life when the Dallas Mavericks called her from retirement to turn around their dysfunctional organization. "She moves with the urgency of a team behind in the fourth quarter," writes the Dallas Morning News. In the video below Marshall explains that she incorporated lessons from a traumatic childhood and bout with cancer to transform the Mavericks into the model for good practices. Marshall is the first female black NBA CEO.
74 year old Patti Smith, sometimes called the grandmother of punk rock, leverages her platform to encourage people to be proactive and loving. "The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing no matter how you land there," Smith writes in her book M Train a meditation on time, loss, and love.
96 year old President Jimmy Carter shared his experience, along with other elder statesmen/women, in hopes of advancing peace and human rights in the world. Today he is Elder Emeritas for the global group The Elders. They promote ethical leadership, bilateral cooperation, solutions to climate change, access to justice, and universal healthcare. Many cultures celebrate the knowledge of elders and turn to them for leadership. That custom is common in Native American community. There, Elders aspire to be gentle leaders and are "essential to the tribes prosperity and well being." Elders preserve history, dialects, and customs. Now, by virtue of a baby boom and the consequent reinvention of aging our country is being led by its elders. Will we be peaceful leaders or divisive? Will we be wise leaders or misdirected? What will we preserve and what will we discard as we steward our communities into the future?
Together we have the opportunity to make the world a better place. Each of us will be called to help others through these transitional times whether we find ourselves in leadership or simply as members of our community. What does age have to do with it? Everything because we enjoy years of experience and the wisdom of time. Age matters because we hold the economic and political power to shape the present and future. What does age have to do with it? Nothing. As physical barriers to aging continue to fall we're redefining aging norms and modeling the advantages of growing old. As we guide our country into into coming years may we do so with generosity and kindness.
Update Feb 21: In the video below Franklin Henry, a Marshallese Community Worker, explains: "When we lose our elders we lose our traditions, our cultures and basically our way of life." Henry speaks to news on the subject of losing family as the U.S. reaches 500,000 deaths from Covid-19