How do you feel about getting older? Personally, I’m not a fan. Not at all. I can accept it, but I don’t have to like it.
I have a good amount of gray hair, which I’m not thrilled with. It’s been a thing people commented on for years. It started with comments like “Oh wow, you have a lot of gray!”, in a warning tone. As if I was doing something to cause it, that it could be prevented if I did some things differently in my life.
Now, people come up to me, especially if they’ve never met me, to say something. “I love the gray!”, they say. “It looks so distinguished!”
I’m not sure when it became socially acceptable to say things like that to perfect strangers, let alone friends. I don’t say to people “I love how you’ve added weight around your mid-section!” because they’re probably self-conscious about that. Is it not socially acceptable for me to be self-conscious about looking older?
I have to move forward past this issue. My stylist, Kayla, recently sat me down for a chat. (Well, technically, I was already sitting in her chair.) “Why don’t you like your gray hair?” she asked me.
So I explained. My wife and I are both 35. Sometimes we go out for drinks, and have to present our IDs at the door. I let my wife go first, because that’s appropriate. The person generally looks at her, looks at her ID, looks at her year of birth, and with a look of surprise, says “wow, you look 27!”. Every. Single. Time. Next, I present my ID. The person looks at me, my ID, the year of my birth, and just says “ok”. I ask “how old do I look?!?” (I recognize this is not a good question to ask, but they’re generally so complimentary to my wife, I want to be included too.) The response is “About 35.” This is not the response I was after.
Kayla told me she understood. Then, she asked me if I had seen George Clooney’s hair recently. I thought back to some pictures I’d seen of him. Then she asked me if his life had been hindered in any way because of his gray hair. Mentally, I flashed back to his 90’s Caesar haircut, which wasn’t very gray, to the most recent picture I’d seen of him with his wife. I saw her point.
The deeper issue is really fear of irrelevancy. Thankfully, since I’m the kind of person who loves to work on new things, take on new projects, and push myself, I don’t feel stagnant. I greatly admire those who find time to pursue a college degree or run a side business.
The attitude everyone in life needs to be most afraid of is “I don’t know how to do that. I’m not learning”. That attitude seems to be prevalent among today’s older set, and I never want to be that way.
Recently, I worked on a project with an man in his 50’s. He didn’t email, didn’t have an email address, and didn’t want to have one. He mentioned during our working together at the beginning that his wife could email and she could possibly help him, but that never seemed to materialize. Later in the project, I had some important documents to send him, but no way to send them, because he still didn’t have email. At that point, I lost it a bit. I told him that fax machines were not coming back in, and even if they did, the world had moved on, and it was time to step up his game. I’ve had email since 1996, and he could stand to spend some time to figure it out.
That was not my finest moment.
Why is that older people stop trying to update their skills, stop trying to remain relevant, and just dwell on the past? Part of it makes sense to me. Our world today is still relationship driven, but many people no longer understand what relationships are, due in part to the prevalence of social media. (See my post “Taking Back the Word Friend from Facebook”.) Older people know how important a face-to-face conversation can be, how expressing respect and heartfelt gratitude can have more value than money, and that showing genuine interest in someone’s personal life can make them open up like nothing else can.
The majority of the younger generations are still learning the value of these things. I am still learning them myself, but I recognize when someone of a younger generation “gets it”. When I see someone young take an extra moment to show attentiveness and caring to another person, or an employee uses a probing question to reach the heart of the problem, or sends a personalized thank you note through the mail – all of those are actions I look for, and each time I see one, I feel excited to have personally witnessed. My hairstylist Kayla took the time to ask the question about my gray hair, and then listen to my answer, despite the line of customers she had waiting. That’s the kind of interaction the younger generation as a whole still needs to learn.
I’m not immune to the feelings of older people, or the feelings of not understanding today’s youth. I love social media, but I’ve lost interest in Twitter and I still don’t “get” Snapchat. But that doesn’t mean I’m irrelevant. I fight that by finding out why people use products or platforms the way they do – or, conversely, why they don’t. Sometimes I learn something new, or the ideas others have make sense and help me understand something else. A lot of times, “idea sex” happens. Idea sex is when you hear an idea and it gels with another idea you have and BOOM – an idea baby that’s completely new and different. Idea sex is a great thing, because it lets you build on the shoulders of giants to create your own version of things.
You know what ideas can lead to? Showing your creativity. Showing your ability to think on a different level from others (older people call that “thinking-outside-the-box”). Want a new job? Go in with a list of ideas to help that business and then show them how you’d implement those ideas if you were an employee. Show them the ideas you’d implement in 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days. Tell them you have a list of ideas for day 120, but they have to hire you first.
And that, my friends, is how you keep from being irrelevant.