The New Age of Wisdom
The Federal Government in Australia announced recently that they recommend lifting the official Retirement Age to 70.
Then came a constant stream of stories about how unrealistic and unfair this is, as journalists and punters alike trotted out the well worn adage that “nobody wants to employ anyone over 45”.
I propose that rather than arguing about what age may be “appropriate” to retire, that we start actively challenging the notion that anyone over 45 has no value to our business community.
When we are not talking about the workplace, it is common to hear people say “40 is the new 30” and “50 is the new 40”; and very often in non work related media we see positive images of mature people being active, energetic, engaged, and absolutely reclaiming the definition of attractiveness and vitality.
Yet, in most workplaces, the time honoured and always negative perceptions of mature aged workers seem to remain steadfastly unchallenged.
If you are 50, as of now you have another 20 years to work. Twenty years is NOT a short-term proposition. In criminal terms it is actually a Life Sentence! 20 years cannot be considered merely as a time to slide towards work obsolescence.
Today’s reality for most people is that being over 45 means you have the health, the energy, the freedom, and most importantly the wisdom, to create amazing outcomes in your life – including business.
Employers openly talk about cultivating a “youth” culture – of actively competing for the diminishing numbers of young people in the job market. They make these statements without any fear that the assumptions behind them will be challenged. Youth is associated with energy, creativity, ideas, eagerness to learn, openness to change. And let’s not underestimate the fact, that youth is beautiful.
Yet, when I talk to my 22 year old son, he is quite reasonably outraged at the many negative messages being pushed by our media and our society about young people. We are told that young people are lazy; that they will never leave home; that they lack ambition; that they simply wish to live off their parents. There are television ads that are so insulting to young people (I’m looking at you Uncle Toby’s Oats) that you wonder just exactly what market they are attempting to attract.
So it would seem – outside of the job market – that the reputation of Youth is a double edged sword.
I now think it is time that we gave Age that double edge as well. After all, Age only seems to have the negative side of the blade in the workplace. There are many Mature people who – in their hearts and in their heads – are still as excited by life and work, and its challenges, as they were when they were 25.
These Mature people continuously learn; they care deeply about their careers and the wider world. It’s simply that the physical beauty of their Youth has been replaced by the internal beauty of the Wisdom that comes with life experience – and a positive attitude.
If people take care to keep interested, to stay engaged, to keep learning – Wisdom is the reward. And in my observation, Wise people become more patient, and much more willing to share their knowledge and their skills. They also weather life’s ups and downs with much more grace and ease than was possible in their youth.
But in the workplace, this is not the accepted perception. Traditionally in the work life cycle, we generally only consider three phases in a working life.
The first stage is about Growing your Career – and what you do in these early years is supposed to set you up for your future success (or failure). Young people are haunted by tales that every little thing they do at this time will impact the rest of their lives.
Then in the 30’s and 40’s you are supposed to Establish your career. Society tells us that this is when you either “Make It” or you don‘t. This is a more challenging prospect than what you experience in your 20’s!
The reality today, is that many people do not Grow their careers in their 20’s. For many, this is a time of Exploration, of making mistakes and trying new things; a time to realise that the degree you studied is not leading to the career you want.
So then your 30’s become the time for Establishment. Coincidently, the 30’s are also the time when many people are creating their families, and ideally they need to wind back on their work commitment. So then, their 40’s become the time for career Establishment. (And then they afraid they’ve “left it too late”).
This blurring of the work life cycle has been happening now for at least 25 years. But we still seem to be fixated with the old time frames.
The reality is that people do not stop learning and keeping up-to-date just because they leave their 20’s. The science of Brain Plasticity has proven without a doubt, that learning does not have to cease at any age. Our brains continue to adapt and learn with every challenge and opportunity we face.
And yet, we still seem to allow the business world to tell us that the post “Establishment” career phase (45 plus) is a time of moving towards obsolescence. Convention dictates that post 45, your career – and your life – is in absolute decline.
I would like to propose that we stop pretending that our Career Stages are fixed in time. People are choosing to change careers – completely – and literally start all over again – in their 30’s 40’s and 50’s and beyond.
I would also like to propose that it is time to embrace a career driver other than Youth; and that is “the Wisdom of Age”. People in their 40’s 50’s and 60’s (and yes, 70’s) continuing to hone their skills, and use their Wisdom to share their experience and take on new and different careers. My father studied for his first degree and then took up teaching at University, after he “retired” at 65.
Human Resources Researchers have been warning for more than a decade, that in many occupations we are facing significant skills shortages. The need for Aged Care Services is growing exponentially as our population ages, and yet, we have been experiencing an acute shortage of skilled workers in this area for years already.
To meet the needs of our changing workforce and population we will have to radically rethink the way we view our workforce and our careers. These skills shortages cannot all be filled by 25 year olds.
Can we imagine an economy and a business community that not only accepts, but actually embraces people, who at any age or stage in their lives – choose to take on new careers? It really is time to let go of Generational – and Life Stage prejudices.
I look forward to the day when I hear Employers say, that they are not only actively pursuing the freshness of Youth, but that they also want and need to attract the Wisdom of Age.
The world of work, and the world itself, does need all of us. Let’s consider making it easier for people who are growing their families to do so without the desperation to simultaneously build their careers.
And let us all embrace and respect the vitality of Youth – as well as the Wisdom of Age.