Why Do We Ignore Our “Greatest Generation?”

I knew I was getting older, but I hoped nobody would notice. Delusional! Then, a few years ago, I got the senior discount without asking for it. I gently scolded the young lady and told her that she should never give the senior discount unless it’s requested, and then you should ask for their ID. Anyway, my secret was out. I had passed a threshold into another chapter of my life, so I decided to make the best of it. I was not going to go quietly into that bleak and lonely place where too many “old people” spend some of the best years of their lives. But, time and culture were working against me, so I had to rethink the vision of “what I want to be when I grow up.”

Part of that vision was around health. There are some things that we can’t stop as we age, but most of what we see in our culture is controllable through exercise and adopting healthy habits.

Another part of my vision was about my mental state. I want to have a healthy mind as much as I want to have a healthy body. I have adopted and practiced a personal mantra that I say to myself every day: “I get what I think about whether I want it or not.” I have chosen to think about what I want in the future instead of what I don’t want. I can tell you at 75, there’s a lot of stuff in the future you don’t want.

The third part of my vision is around finances. Money is not necessary for happiness, but it does make it easier. In our culture, a person my age is virtually unemployable regardless of their skills or competency. I say virtually because there are exceptions, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s no fun going on the job market at 75.

So, I’m starting my own business. I’m calling it Chapter Three Coaching, with a tagline, “Outsmarting Time and Culture.” I want to work with people and organizations who are transitioning into another chapter of their life. I help people develop healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy finances. I help them see what’s possible.

I want to promote “intergenerational learning.” I can learn a lot from Millennials and they can learn a lot from me. All we have to do is get together in an organization.

Imagine a culture where we blurred the distinctions between generations, and we respected all people regardless of their age. Martin Luther King’s famous quotation, “I dream of a world where people will be judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin” could be paraphrased to say, “I dream of a world where people will judged by the content of their character instead of their age.” Imagine a corporate culture that married the wisdom, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and experience of the Boomers with the technical expertise, vision and energy of the Millennials.

Chip Conley, Airbnb Strategic Advisor for Hospitality & Leadership, is a thought leader who is working to bring the idea of The Modern Elder into our conversation. He recently shared this quote from his upcoming book, Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, which describes where we are in our culture and where we need to go.

“We’ve allowed a youth-centered culture to leave us so estranged from our future selves that, when asked about the years beyond 50, 60, or 70….many people can only see a blank screen, or one on which they project disease and dependency. This incomplete social map makes the last third of life unknown country….We may not yet have maps for this new country, but other movements can give us a compass….first, rising up from invisibility by declaring the existence of a group with shared experiences; then taking the power to name and define the group; then a long process of ‘coming out’ by individuals who identify with it; then inventing new words to describe previously unnamed experiences.”
-Gloria Steinhem

If, as Tom Brokaw said, the Boomers and older are our “greatest generation” then we might pause to consider why we ignore them and let them languish in retirement or idleness instead of learning how to use this wonderful resource to create more vibrant and productive corporate cultures and quality of life for all.

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