Shaping the Future of Ageing

It’s time we got rid of the idea that as the years roll by everything in your mind, body and spirit slows down and capabilities reduce.

The world is changing faster than a greased bullet and so is the idea of “getting old”. In fact the speed of change is itself having a major impact on the shape of ageing today, especially with our significantly lengthening life expectancy. Although that means we may live longer than previous generations, the term ‘old’ will increasingly shrink to the time we eventually experience cataclysmic health failure. Improved medical science might even result in most of us simply dying suddenly while doing what we always loved - now that's the way to go.

This at a time when so many managers today use 19th century Industrial Revolution management principles in regarding people aged 50 – even 40 – as being too old to cope with modern technology and fast-action thinking. This implies that out of a statistical average life of 80 that 20 of those years (20-40 years of age) are the only ones in which people can make a meaningful contribution to society. .

Your children may sometimes tell you that you are old. Does that mean you really are old?  No it is only their perception of what life ‘at your age’ must be like. Could you imagine your child deciding what you are competent to do?  Such is the mentality which is at the centre of ageism today. The issues that this paper is addressing are the product of decisions made by people about matters of which they cannot have had any life experience to assess. Let alone be competent to make (illegal) decisions on the capabilities of people simply on the basis that they are older than themselves.

Nature abhors the growing vacuum between this thinking and our natural hunger for self-actualization - the natural desire to keep growing, maturing and contributing to social progress for many more years than was possible for previous generations.

Vacuums create dramatic changes opening up the prospect of a human progress being increasingly based on wellbeing and less on economic rationalism (Wellbeing Indices are maintained by most developed nations today). We will increasingly be content to live within our means, leading to a society more akin to the Leisure Class society that existed prior to the industrial revolution. It was an era in which people made outstanding contributions to the world simply through following their passions and crafting their talents for their own self-actualization and for the good of society.   Not in my lifetime I would say but the signs are there and growing.

From as early as 40-45 years onwards, people are seeking to reinvent themselves, to develop what is called encore lives based on what they have learned to love – and also what they haven’t liked – about their lives to date. With the trend towards living longer and with greater long-term health, many will reinvent themselves two or more times in their lives.  

People living beyond an age that society has decreed as ‘retirement age’ (stop, withdraw, retreat) have had this perception rammed down their throats for many generations by younger people. Eventually they believed it and typically agreed to act their age and grow old gracefully (many now opting to – in their words – grow old disgracefully!).  

A personal theory

A look at nature and its energy gives a clue as to what drives personal growth today, irrespective of one’s age.

 While my theory may not have scientific support, it illustrates simply the suggestion that personal growth and development is driven by our energizing interests/experiences.

Everything is basically driven by a form of energy:

  • The Big Bang theory that the universe is constantly expanding, and
  • Growth of all things natural in the world is energy-driven

Human growth and development is fundamentally energy-driven, the energy being stored in each person’s unique mix of talents and passionate interests. The catalyst that unlocks such energy and releases it occurs when we creatively express those talents and passions – at work, home and at play. Every such experience throughout life becomes part of an energy chain-reaction that brings each of us to our current extent of self-actualization. As long as we retain reasonable fitness of the mind, body and spirit the chain reaction ensures a continuing expansion of our lives. The bonus is that this process also provides the energy, inner strength and resilience to work through the tough times of life.

Summary:

The ageing process is being incredibly influenced by:

  • waves of social and technological change,
  • the efforts of baby boomers and others to change the way we think about our later years of life,
  • the increasing growth of life expectancy, and
  • the manner in which medical advances are extending the health of our lives.

Public and professional attitudes are however much slower to change and continue to reflect 20th – even 19th – century thinking on ageing. It’s time for social thinking and public policies to catch up with the fact that “everyone Is ageing, but who is old?”

If this article resonates with you, I sincerely recommend you consider purchasing a copy of my latest book "The Hunger to Grow". It contains extensive material on how you can maximize your continuing process of self-actualization (achievement of your full potential), whether or not you continue working.