When Are We Old? What Does it Mean To Be Old?

As the baby boomer population ages, rarely does a day go by without several news articles about how to stay fit, keep your brain active, and stave off the ills of aging. At the same time, millennials are also aging and entering middle age.

Speaking of middle age, my doctor says we are middle-aged until 85.  

So what does all this mean?

  • Does it mean the middle part of life is longer? 
  • Or does it mean the later part of life is longer? 
  • How much is choice? How much is dictated by genetics and health?
  • Does this mean we continue our careers longer? Or do we change careers in mid-middle age or early middle age? Or do we choose an encore career or an encore life?
  • What about retirement? Is it still an option for most people? Is it a privilege, a desire, or a destiny without choice? 

I suspect the answer to all these questions is “It depends.” At the same time, it might be worth pausing to ask ourselves these questions. 

All We Are Saying…

Earlier this week, I read in the news that relatives of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr are making a rare trip to Memphis on Thursday, on the anniversary of his assassination, to speak on the rising threat of political violence, especially in an election year.

Relatives of King do not generally make the pilgrimage to Memphis, and certainly not as a family unit, but have said they felt it was necessary to do so during a presidential election year in which the US is so divided and violent rhetoric is becoming routine. “This is the first year that we are going back as a family to Memphis, and we felt that it was extraordinarily important to be there in that spot this year,” King III’s wife, Andrea Waters King, told Axios.

Reading this story, combined with the physical and verbal vitriol in our cities and the terrible wars worldwide, brought to mind John Lennon’s song, Give Peace A Chance.  

The refrain from Lennon’s song, “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” became an anthem for the baby boomers during the turbulent 60’s and early 70’s. 

Perhaps it is time to start singing it again. 

What Is a Big Deal To Me, May Leave You Wondering WTF

In this increasingly sensitized world, we sometimes wonder how others will interpret our words.

On the receiving end, we may be offended by others’ comments and wonder, at a minimum, how this person could have been so insensitive.

Layer on to these differences in cultures and life experiences; while some may hear a comment as a big deal, the sender may be left scratching their head. 

For me, the solution lies in dialogue and seeking first to understand. Understand what others are sensitive to, the life and ancestral experiences that may have led them to feel as they do, and why others appear to “not get it.”

Two conversations, one recent and one I had a few years back, brought this home to me at a personal level. In the recent conversation, as a Jewish person, I felt offended by comments I heard from a friend—comments that my friend may have felt were neutral. 

This recent experience reminded me of a conversation a few years ago with a black friend when I was perceived as insensitive. “You don’t understand my history and lived experience,” she said. I felt sad and misunderstood at the time because I thought I did understand. I realize now that her comments were accurate; I do not understand. Each of us sees the world through our filter.

Sometimes, we think what is right and what is wrong should be obvious, yet it often isn’t. One of my favorite examples comes from Trevor Noah’s biography. 

According to Noah, in South Africa, where he is from, children are taught that Hitler was a powerful man; the atrocities he committed were left out of the history lesson. Trevor goes on to say that black South Africans often name their children after “great leaders,” emphasizing that great does not necessarily mean good. With this background in mind, Noah shares a story about a friend named Hitler. Yes, that is his given name, not a nickname.

As young adults, Trevor and Hitler were entertainers; Trevor was a DJ, and Hitler was a dancer. The two of them were invited to perform at a school in a white neighborhood that turned out also to be a Jewish neighborhood. When Trevor introduces Hitler to the stage to dance, the room falls silent. Trevor doesn’t understand why and carries on with his spiel using Hitler’s name over and over.

Finally, a teacher comes on stage and demands that they leave. An argument ensues; the teacher is horrified that “you people” had the indecency to come here. Trevor hears “you people” as black people; now both are horrified and offended. Trevor and Hitler leave, and it isn’t until years later, when Trevor travels outside of South Africa, that he understands what happened that day.

When I read Noah’s story, I was struck by its absurdity and reminded that we must try to assume positive intent, which is hard to do sometimes but so important, especially today.

Go Ahead, Drop Some Balls

A friend of mine recently received a significant promotion. While he is excited about his promotion, he is searching for his replacement and, for now, is doing both jobs. When I asked him how it was going, he responded, “I’m just trying to get it all done without dropping any balls.”

This conversation reminded me of one I had with one of my clients. She was lamenting the challenges one of her executives has with burnout. In this case, the CEO said, “I wish he would learn to drop some balls; his effort to get everything done is causing his burnout!”

The’ to-do list’ can seem endless for those who want to dot every I and cross every T (I admit I am one of them). I heard this wise CEO say, ” Go ahead, drop some balls. Just choose the ones you are going to drop.”

What if, instead of starting each day with a list of what we will do, we begin by removing the things we aren’t going to do? Here are some examples to get you started:

  • What if you reviewed your email once or twice per day and let everyone know that this is your plan?
  •  What if you coded your email so critical emails moved to a priority list, and you responded to these first and removed yourself from cc lists?
  •  What if, for everything that comes your way, you paused and asked yourself, does this email, call, text, or inquiry require a response? And if it does, is this something only I can do? Or can I delegate it?
  •  What if you paused before saying “yes”?

Am I The Only One?

Clients frequently ask me, “Am I the only one?” And, of course, the answer is always no. It doesn’t matter what actions or feelings you fill in at the end of this question; we share the human experience. 

Pivots are hard, and the challenges each of us experiences during life transitions are similar. For late-career transitions, the primary questions are:

  • How do I stay relevant without becoming overcommitted?
  • I want more of a life portfolio, yet I am accustomed to making my professional life the center of my attention.
    • How do I break this habit?
    • I am afraid of becoming bored. What if I do? Will it be too late to go back?  
  • Do I really want a portfolio, or do I want a new center of attention? If the latter, how do I keep myself from becoming consumed in the way I was before? 

These are hard questions, which is why it takes courage to pivot intentionally and why most people don’t. 

We watch professional athletes stay past their prime and participate in the debate about term limits for our congress. Yet, how often do we look inward and debate our own need for term limits? 

Before I created the You Pivot™ Program, I was a leadership coach for many years. During my tenure coaching CEOs and other C-Suite executives, only a fraction chose to go on to something new. Many more kept on keeping on, in some cases “after the thrill was gone.” 

Yet, in my experience, the people who intentionally choose their path are the happiest. As with most change, the scariest part is beginning.

People Are Over Skinny Jeans

I recently bought a pair of the new lightweight wide-leg jeans. When I checked out, I commented to the salesman how comfortable the jeans were and said, “I sure hope they are in style for a while.” He responded, “I think they will be in style for a long time; people are over skinny jeans and heels.”

I’ve been thinking about his comment ever since. For me, it’s a metaphor for the changes people have been choosing since the pandemic. And, his comment is a reminder that it’s not changing back. 

I hear a lot of talk about how, before the pandemic, the baby boomer perspective was the norm; we adapted our personal lives to our business lives. Post-pandemic, Gen Zers have made it clear that work must adapt to their personal lives. 

While on the one hand, some leaders of large companies are pushing for things to go back to the way they were before, at the same time, I am hearing from Boomer and Gen X clients who say they want the same thing the Zers want. 

Part of my You Pivot™ Program includes a section on defining What Matters. These days clients clearly state that What Matters includes prioritizing family, spiritual, and other activities that make for a full life. More than ever before, I am hearing, “Whatever professional endeavor I do next, I want more than the 80-90% work focus I had before.”

Time will tell how this unfolds, but my salesman may be right: most people are over skinny jeans. 

The Ever Elusive Search for Work-Life Balance

For many of us, the holy grail of success is achieving “Work-Life- Balance.” It is a topic of frequent discussion in my coaching sessions and is often first on the list when we start working together.
And yet, despite all the discussions, books, and articles, many of us feel this “balance” eludes us. It may be because we see it as an either/or – choosing between work and life to achieve balance.
What if, instead, we saw it, as James Michener did, becoming masters in the art of living.

“Masters in the art of living make little distinction
between their work and their play, their
labor and their leisure, their mind and their
body, their information, and their
recreation, their love, and their religion.
They hardly know which is which.
They simply pursue their vision of excellence at
whatever they do, leaving others to
decide whether they are working or playing.
To them, they are always doing both.”

Do They Really Like Me? Does It Matter?

Many years ago, Sally Field famously accepted her Oscar, declaring, “You like me,” she said. “You really like me, ” strongly emphasizing the word ” really. ” What she actually said was, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me right now; you like me.” 

We probably misremember or misheard the quote because it isn’t just actors who are motivated by being liked; we all are. Psychologists say this misquote is sticky because it exemplifies a central human need.

And whether we are liked impacts our ability to have long-term, lasting success. Likability is an essential component of EQ, and it impacts the legacy we leave.

Of course, when taken too far, a focus on likeability can also impact our ability to have lasting success. 

Last week, I watched Death of a Salesman for the first time in many years. It is a tragic story about a salesman in the 1940s who believes that likeability is all one needs to succeed. And, not surprisingly, he finds out that it isn’t. 

Yet, we see the importance of likeability play out in business and, most visibly, in politics. 

Here in Chicago, we did not reelect our last mayor because lots of people don’t like her. Contrast that with Mayor “Ritchie” Daley, who served five terms from 1989 to 2011. Mayor Daley was extremely popular. As a result, he could do things people didn’t like (like swoop in and close an airport in the middle of the night, without any authority to do so) because people liked him, even if they didn’t always like what he did. (On side note, the airport closing turned out to be something the citizens of Chicago liked because it became a lovely park and concert venue). And our parks and the overall beauty of the city are part of Mayor Daley’s legacy.

Working with CEOs and C-suite executives, I observe the same phenomenon. Like Sally Field, the leaders who are really liked and respected by their teams get results. They get a pass when they make a mistake, especially when they own it and admit it. And more importantly, they get support when they want something to happen.

As we consider our own leadership, we should ask ourselves, perhaps daily: Even though I may already be respected, what can I do today to hone my EQ skills and increase my likability?