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Reflections of a Grumpy Old Man

I asked my 86 year old friend, Bill Zaner, why old people were always characterized as grumpy. He quickly replied, “It’s because they’ve been left behind. The world’s having a party, and they’re not invited.”

Bill quickly summarized our culture. We divide the population into generational demographics, and we ignore the demographic with a huge reserve of generational knowledge and wisdom that could help build bridges in our divided society.

Chip Conley, Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy at Airbnb, said in a recent article, ““When an elder dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” All these libraries are empty because nobody seems to be interested.

The Millennials get all the attention these days. As a HR Director, I’m constantly invited to seminars that propose to help me understand how to work with Millennials. I don’t get anything on how to deal with the Geezer generation. I just made up that demographic. Let’s not forget about Geezettes. I made that up too so I can be politically correct.

I can talk like that because I’m a Geezer. I’m 75 years old, still working as a Human Resource Director and in great health, both mentally and physically. I think I knew I was going to live this long so I decided to take good care of myself.

Let’s get the facts out of the way so this old Geezer can go on an opinionated rant about the way we treat elders in our society. Here are the official generational demographics:

Generation Z/Boomlets – born after 2001

Generation Y/Millennium – born between 1981 and 2000

Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980

Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964

Mature/Silents – born between 1927 and 1945

I’m a part of the Mature/Silent generation, and I can tell you that there’s not a lot of demand for folks in my tribe. In addition, we face as much discrimination as any other “protected” group. The only difference is that it’s socially acceptable to discriminate against us. It starts at the lower end of Generation X. Just ask any 40-50 year old who has lost his/her job how it feels to be left behind. It only gets worse. How do we discriminate? Let me count the ways.

Jokes. In our politically correct society, it’s not OK to make jokes about gays, lesbians, blacks, latinos, jews, et al. But everybody loves a good old joke. Especially those jokes about old people having sex . . . or not having sex. When was the last time you saw a Millennial in a Viagra or Cialis commercial?

40th birthdays. Aren’t those “over the hill” birthday cards a hoot? And the black balloons. That’s when we get the first inkling that we’re being left behind.

Stereotyping. I knew I was getting old, but I hoped nobody would notice. Then people started asking me if I was retired when they met me. When I got a senior discount without asking for it, I knew I had entered another world.

The job market. Forget about it. Yes, we’re a protected class. The reason we have protected classes is because people want to discriminate based on a variety of factors and age is one of them. Even though it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, it’s tough to get a job past a certain age. I have two degrees and a wealth of experience with organizational development in large and small corporations, but I feel like a homeless person on the street corner with a sign when I go into the job market. That’s unfortunate because the Millennials could learn a lot from me. And, I could learn a lot from them as well.

Coming out. We hear a lot about the feeling of liberation that Gays feel when they can finally be who they are without fear of exclusion. Many of us get to that point with our age. We’re embarrassed to tell people our age. It’s a liberating feeling to say, “I’m 75, and I’m proud of it.”

Old is a an adjective that makes any noun worse. Let’s take one of the favorite expressions used to describe old people – old fart. let’s break that down. Fart is bad enough by itself because we all know what one of those things can do in a room, elevator or under the sheets. But, old? Let’s imagine what it’s like after its fermented in there for a while. This thing that would make any space uninhabitable is used as a metaphor to describe what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation.

What do we do? We can’t change the culture. All we can do is change ourselves. We have to develop a strategy to outsmart time and culture.

Take care of yourself.

“Sorry, there´s no magic bullet. You gotta eat healthy and live healthy to be healthy and look healthy. End of story.” -Morgan Spurlock

If you knew you were going to live this long, you probably would have taken better care of yourself. It’s not too late. Many people in their sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond are in excellent health and physically fit and active. But, it doesn’t happen by default. We have to do it on purpose. Our culture expects us to gain weight as we get older, but it doesn’t have to be that way if we know how to outsmart the culture and the purveyors of fast food who are luring us like corner drug dealers. Our culture expects us to have health problems as we get older, but it doesn’t have to be that way if we look after our health with the same diligence as we look after our retirement plan. Good health is the best retirement plan.

Find meaning and purpose in your life.

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. -Friedrich Nietzsche

Aging 2.0, an international organization dedicated to help people meet the challenges of aging in a culture that causes many to feel isolated and marginalized. Too many people find retirement doesn’t provide the satisfaction they thought it would. We need to find new meaning and purpose in our lives that gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning and pursue a worthwhile goal. How do we find that? The easy answer is to start looking. One way to begin is to think about specific areas in your life such as health, family, social, learning, etc. Then start with thinking about how you want to feel in those areas. It can be difficult to decide on specific goals, but we usually know how we want to feel, and we know when we’re not feeling the way we want to feel. If we start with how we want to feel, we can back into the specific things that will bring about that feeling.

Learn.

“Shall I tell you the secret of the true scholar? It is this: every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lifelong learning is one of the best antidotes for aging. Listen to a bunch of old guys talking some time. You’ll probably notice that very few, if any, are asking questions. They are pontificating on their opinions about the way things are. When we were kids, our favorite word was “Why?” We were always in the inquiring mode, trying to learn about this strange new world we had entered. As we get older, we begin to lose that childlike curiosity about the world and take comfort in our opinions.

A powerful question to live with is “What do I need to learn?”

Choose your friends wisely.

“As you get older, you choose friends based on not only what feels resonant and warm but if they’re bringing something to your life.” -Gwyneth Paltrow

A friend told me that her husband’s health had improved when they moved, and he quit hanging out with the guys at the country club. They all had retired well, with no financial worries. They lived in beautiful homes in a picturesque setting, but they sat around all day complaining about everything from the state of the world to the service they were getting at the country club.

Scientific studies have shown that obesity is contagious. If your friends and family are obese, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be obese. Same thing with geezers and geezettes. If you have a millennial mind stuck in a baby boomers body then you probably shouldn’t hang around with a bunch of people who don’t want to do anything but go to bingo night and yell at the kids to get off their lawn.

Tolerance

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” -Dalai Lama

I always thought I was exempt from the generation gap. I kept my mind young, liked younger people, and enthusiastically embraced technology. I was surprised to hear myself utter the words, “the younger generation,” one day with a litany of complaints about how much trouble we’re in if these kids were going to take over the world some day. Even if I was right, it wasn’t doing anything to change the culture, and it wasn’t doing anything to help me.

If those pesky Millennials are getting under your skin, try to be more tolerant. As Chip Conley said in a recent article, many Millennials are more familiar with the face of their cell phone than they are with the faces of their colleagues at work. They also use the “F” word ubiquitously. It has become the Swiss Army Knife of words. It is seldom used in a grammatically correct way. It has become a filler for emphasis, and it is used with no regard for the sensibilities of our generation. When I was their age (how’s that for grumpy old man talk) I wouldn’t have dreamed of using that word in public or in front of my parents. But, we live in a different time now, and it helps to look past those things to find the real essence of the person. We can learn a lot from the Millennials, and they can learn a lot from us if we work on bridging that gap. More tolerance is a step in that direction.

Define Yourself

“As you live your values, your sense of identity, integrity, control, and inner-directedness will infuse you with both exhilaration and peace. You will define yourself from within, rather than by people’s opinions or by comparisons to others.” -Stephen Covey

Your mama probably told you not to pay attention to the bullies at school who tried to make you feel less than you are. It might be time to re-visit that advice if our culture is trying to put you into a box that is not you. Take inventory of your strengths and the many ways you can be of service. It’s never about us. It’s always about what we can do for other people.

Conclusion

David Brooks said recently in an interview, “I’ve noticed one way in which turning 70 is like turning 17. Hormones kick in. The hormones at 17 lead to a great hunger for you know what. The hormones at 70 lead to a great hunger for generativity, for giving back to future generations. People at that age have a great horniness for service and they start volunteering promiscuously.

In a time when we see too many old men busted for sexual harassment, we could use more horniness for service.

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Health and Happiness in Midlife and Beyond

Pat Whitty

Pat Whitty

Life Transition Coach

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