“I’m too old for this shit,” – is the running joke in the Lethal Weapon film series. Roger Murtaugh is constantly pondering retirement and complaining he is too old for everything that happens to him. Claiming we are too old for something we ought to do, or for something bad that may or actually does happen, is a statement that does two things :
1. Conceals the real psychological reason why we shy away from something.
2. Invites us to consider ourselves too old for lots of other stuff too, which hastens senility and checking out from active life.
There are very, very few things that require us to be a certain age (see video page, 102 yr-old base jumper). If we’re honest, claiming our age prevents us from taking action is an excuse. It hides the fear and insecurity that comes with doing something difficult or new. Age is a locked door to hide behind when opportunity comes knocking. We may be afraid of looking stupid – it’s hard to be a beginner when you can’t claim youth as an excuse – or we may simply be afraid.
“I’m too old to ring up prospective tenants’ employers to inquire about their income,” said Dorothy when her financial advisor suggested investing in property to supplement her pension.
“I’m too old to stand up and speak to a room of strangers,” said Agnes when asked to speak on her experience of beating cancer.
“I’m too old to learn how to use a smart phone,” said Bart when his grandson suggested showing him what they can do.
The reason Dorothy and Agnes felt too old was really that they were too nervous, since both these tasks demand confidence and courage. In fact younger people often think they are too young to do things that require these qualities. If Dorothy and Agnes were honest, they would agree there never was an age when public speaking or making difficult phone calls came easily. If Bart were honest a failure to see the point of learning how to use yet another gadget – after the dozens of gadgets he had already learnt to use during his lifetime – was the real reason he wasn’t keen. Next time we are tempted to say we’re too old for something let us ask ourselves – is it rather that we simply can’t be bothered?
Saying we’re too old after say, 65, is fast becoming nonsense in a world where we can expect to live another 40 years, and probably soon 60 years after “retirement”. The European Commission declared 2012 as the Year of Active Ageing. Active ageing means helping people to stay in charge of their own lives for as long as possible as they age and to contribute to the economy and society. It is probable that retirement will soon become a thing of the past, since governments won’t be able to support the population of over-65s; in fact people will increasingly be responsible for their own pensions. In any case, not only is extended retirement not affordable, it isn’t terribly good for us. It is a waste of resources to expect the over-65s to accept no longer being useful, and it is also a health risk since the more engaged we feel, the better we age physically and mentally. Society simply cannot afford to keep the large population of senior adults (half the people who have ever lived to the age of 65 in the world are alive today), nor can society afford the health bill of the inactive.
The great thing about not being too old for anything is that by the time we reach the age at which most careers have ended we can start preparing for what has been dubbed our “second act”. It may be that we love doing what we have always done, but for the majority of people who feel doing the same thing for 40 years is enough, the end of one career will in the future signify the beginning of a second one. It is also, incidentally, crazy that people have to work hard and establish their careers at the same time as they are involved in the exhausting task of raising a family. Having the chance to do a job we can focus on completely and not having to do it every day is every person’s dream. No longer will we feel that any education we do after 60 is ultimately pointless. Instead the fireman will retrain as a maths teacher, the doctor will go back to university and get an arts degree and then teach evening classes, the electrician will go to drama school and go into films. Entrepreneurs over 50 have a higher success rate. Mark Freedman founded the Purpose Prize for social entrepreneurs over 65 in the US, pointing to research that shows older people have a wiser attitude to work.
When we realise just how much time we have left, the world becomes our oyster. Let us stop marking our spot on the ledger, for it may be that ledger extends way off the page.
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