Excellence and Ageing
These are just my thoughts this morning; speaking to youth of all ages.
One morning in the Spring of 2011, I awoke to a piece on local public radio… on the “problem of ageing”. I must admit that I was half asleep and only caught the tail end of a conversation around how we deal with the fact that our population is ageing. I have heard this discussion before (and since), both from a social and economic perspective. Indeed, governments, social agencies and businesses are concerned with it, in increasingly public ways.
How will we support so many aged people? How will our pension system withstand the strain? These were some of the questions, then and now. That morning, I responded to the on air conversation with a call to the radio station and I have no idea whether it made it to air or not… but, today, I figured it would be a great starting point to explore excellence.
Please allow me to explain.
First of all, these questions often and unconsciously presume a declining value in the “latter years”. In all of these discussions, the concern is expressed that we have many people (those good ol’ boomers) who are approaching the “age of 65″; or are there already. We have somehow now accepted as gospel that 65 is a magical age of “getting old”.
We have bought in to the dream of retirement. We have been sold what Richard Bolles called “The Three Boxes of Life”. Somewhere, along the way, someone decided that our lives would be lead through three boxes… education, work and retirement… the notion of the first 20 years or so of life being around learning so you can get a job for another 40 or so years… so then you can relax in the waning years of your life. Someone also decided that those retirement years begin at 65, at least for most of us.
Personally, I question both propositions.
As a wise friend once said to me… “There is nothing Biblical about retirement.”. Whatever your faith or none, retirement is a 20th century concept developed around the industrial revolution and mass production. We did not have it before the 20th century and I predict it will be gone with that century as well. Indeed, the age of 65 was chosen as 65 because it was apparently the average age of a man at the time of choosing that number.
Things have changed.
Of course our pension system is straining. Originally, the idea was that if you made it past 65, you got the last couple of years of your life to “chill”. It was not intended to be a 25-30 year plan; never mind that our ageing is slowing down. Some predictions are that the child who will live to 150 is now, already, born. Look around at 50 year olds and above… 70 is the new 60, 60 the new 50, 50 the new 40, 40 the new 30… and, yes, 30 the new 20. I see this in the college classroom. I have seen it in seniors’ residences, once filled by 70 year olds, now in the 90’s. It is reality. That comparison will continue to grow as our life spans increase and our ageing slows. My father’s parents died in their 50′s… he passed on at 79…. my mother at 92… me? Who knows? But 65 is not what 65 was…
So, how does this relate to excellence?
Excellence and purposefulness are the real juice and marrow of our lives. The virtue of excellence brings a healthy pride; a sense of a job well done and of value. Some who “retire” go on to other work, new careers or community service and they choose work that they love. I have no argument with that. I love it. Still, far too many have bought into some “story” that we are to slave away at work with the promise of our last years of simply “not working”.
I have been told that there is research that says that, on average, people die 6 years after they retire. 6 years! I have not officially confirmed this (you can check on it yourself if you are so inclined). Still, through more than random observation, I have noticed an accelerated deterioration in many I have known to retire. Maybe you have as well. It is my observation that having something to do and to do it well has amazing powers over our continued capacities.
I have no proof. Yet, my own father was a working man. He loved work and he loved doing a good job. He was strongly recommended for retirement at 71, by a well intended family doctor. It did not take long to see the signs of deterioration… a sense of boredom, and the onset of Dementia. That is another story, and a life changing one at that. Still, I have noticed, far too often, a relationship between stopping work and “the problem of ageing”. I suggest that there is a mysterious connection between a sense of value that comes from doing good work and our quality and quantity of life. What does this have to do with excellence and leadership?
How should we lead our own lives and set an example for others? I suggest that we do so through the practice of excellence. If we choose to retire in the traditional sense, maybe part of the solution to this problem of ageing is to find activities in which we can excel and bring real value to our lives… maybe we can find something we truly love to do and do it with excellence, constantly perfecting our craft. It stimulates the mind, and heart.
Before I go further, I am not condemning anyone who chooses to retire in the traditional sense. Indeed, I am not suggesting there are any guarantees that excellence in work will get you more years. Still, I do not believe that there is a problem with ageing. I believe that there is a problem with living. We need to challenge this notion that you learn to work, work to retire, and retire to die. We need to bring excellence at work and play, throughout our entire lives. We do not need lots of money to do so. Find your passion through volunteerism or a lifelong hobby and pay your bills if you must… but find something that you will love and give excellence to it for a lifetime. I am not sure how many more years you will get, but I know the quality of those years will be enhanced considerably.
So, what about excellence and leadership? If we accept that our lives count, and we see the beauty in living our lives, and we encourage our creative spirit moving forward, and we detach or let go of those things which cause us to get mired down… then we can approach our work and lives with excellence. I believe that excellence is a constructive “response” to ageing in our organizations and in ourselves. As I personally approach 56 years of age and walk my own journey of health, I find myself considering the role of excellence in service and in my health. I am considering its value in redefining purposefulness. I do believe that it is the cure to mediocrity and conformity and uniformity. It breeds growth, and continued growth at that. It sets THE example; for ourselves and others.
… of all ages.
Excel in what we do and we challenge ourselves to grow every day, in the marketplace and in our work and lives and play. Whatever you choose to do, choose to excel at it. Then, observe the power of excellence.
Indeed, these are just my thoughts this morning.
Peace, passion and prosperity…. and have an excellent day.
Barry Lewis Green, aka The Unity Guy™