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From Ageless to Ageful

Redefining Our Vocabulary Around Growing Older

If we appear and present ourselves as vital, energetic, and confident as we get older, we might be praised as being somehow “ageless.” In a world that reveres youth across every aspect of society, culture, and business, defying age and maintaining the qualities of youth are seen as remarkable and admirable.

But let’s unpack this paradigm.

Ageism is perhaps the last “ism” that we are currently dealing with, and working to abolish. Old assumptions about what it means to age, and how aging actually affects us, have been coming under increased scrutiny, and are being routinely debunked by both scientific and social research.

So when someone calls me “ageless,” as if that’s a good thing, I’ve started to push back on the idea that “being without age,” as that expression implies, is accurate or even desirable.

Let’s replace the concept of “ageless” with the concept of “ageful.” If I have a choice between two suffixes, I’m going with “ful” versus “less.” I’d rather be careful, mindful, thoughtful, faithful, and ageful – as opposed to careless, mindless, thoughtless, faithless, or ageless. Why would we want to take our age out of life’s equation, when the very thing we’re being praised for is not our absence of age, it is the inspiring way that we carry ourselves through these later life milestones. 

Rather than identifying as “less,” somehow divorced from time in a state of suspended animation, let’s identify with “ful” and embrace the ongoing discoveries we are making as pioneers of aging. We are (or should be) on a quest to make every last moment of our lives a meaningful and purposeful experience. Being ageful empowers us to pass along the soulful insights that can only result from the ups and downs, the joys and disappointments, and the other unexpected twists and turns that happen in the latter stages of every full life.

While there are many attributes of an ageful attitude, here are three keys that I try to practice every day to stay true to my later-life calling.

Acceptance. Our ability to accept the reality that is before us frees us to be present in the moment, and to take real control of our lives, by liberating our attitude towards our own aging process. Accepting that we are going to die one day, and shifting from an attitude of death-avoidance to one of death-preparedness is the first step in building strength, conquering fear, and setting an uplifting example to younger generations.

Curiosity. Learning is lifelong. That is particularly true today, in a world that is changing so markedly and so rapidly. Our curiosity is an expression of the “beginner’s mind,” that childlike quality of discovery and playfulness that actually promotes well-being. Our curiosity is what motivates us to meet new people, discover new places, incorporate new routines, read new authors, and adopt new ideas. Being curious sets us up to be more open and less defensive with people of different ages, backgrounds, and points of view.

Engagement. Dare to push back against the conventional wisdom that you’re “done.” For the late-career professionals I coach, contemplating a career change at this stage often seems daunting. They buy into the idea that our best days are behind us. But looking in the rearview mirror is no way to drive forward. Past performance has nothing to do with future results. Now more than ever is the time to seek new challenges, and overcome new obstacles. We’ve learned a lot and done a lot, and the weight of this experience makes us smarter and more strategic as we plan these next moves. As the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has found, older entrepreneurs are twice as likely to achieve success with their new ventures as younger entrepreneurs.

Let’s stop comparing ourselves to younger ages as if we have lost something that can never be replaced. Getting older is, and has always been, a series of transitions and an accrued awareness of what life is all about. Living agefully (not agelessly) is the way to embrace the path we’re on, continue to manifest our dreams, and make meaningful contributions to our families and to our communities.

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