I’m 36, and I just realized a timeless truth I missed all this time
A weird but cool combination of Jeff Bezos and aging studies that will make you think differently about aging.
My daughter is 9. I am 36.
She is halfway to becoming an adult. I am halfway through my life.
I’m young enough to be laughed out of the room by a 60-year-old for agonizing over the shortness of life. But I’m old enough to think of college students as kids.
I see my mom and mentors grapple with the common end we are all marching toward, and I can no longer deny that I am marching in the same procession. I can see crow’s feet forming around my eyes. I’ve got mild and persistent back pain. Last week, I tweezed my first white hair. My right pointer finger doesn’t bend all of the way, and I’m not sure it ever will.
So I wonder: “What’s the proper stance toward the second half of my life?”
This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves, because how we think about the future impacts the decisions and actions we take today, which then impact the outcomes we have.
In a very real way, our stance toward our future is our future.
Several high-profile studies have shown that this effect is particularly strong with our beliefs about aging…
Our Beliefs About Aging Can Increase Our Lifespan By 7+ Years
A fascinating 23-year Yale study shows that our self-perceptions of aging dramatically impact our lifespan.
In 1975, 660 individuals age 50 and over in a small town in Ohio were recruited to participate in a survey about their self-perceptions on aging. Based on their responses to the following questions, they were labeled as having low or high positive self-perceptions of aging (PSPA):
- “Things keep getting worse as I get older,”
- “I have as much pep as I did last year,”
- “As you get older, you are less useful,”
- “I am as happy now as I was when I was younger,” and
- “As I get older, things are (better, worse, or the same) as I thought they would be.”
Then, 23 years later, in 1998, researchers identified who had survived and who hadn’t. They also controlled for age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness, and functional health.
As the chart below shows, individuals with high positive self-perceptions of aging lived an amazing 7.5 years longer than those with low positive self-perceptions of aging…
A follow-up study confirmed the results. Interestingly, the average age of the initial interview in this follow up study was 36.5 years (my current age). The researchers write:
Consistent with our hypothesis, younger individuals who held more negative age stereotypes were significantly more likely [nearly twice as likely to be precise] to experience a cardiovascular event over the next 38 years.
These results are astounding when you think about them. If true, changing our beliefs about aging might be the cheapest, simplest, and safest health intervention ever created.
By contrast, it has been shown that negative beliefs about aging, lead to worse outcomes such as: (1) greater cardiovascular response to stress and (2) worse health behaviors (for example, higher tobacco use). Both of these are linked to increased cardiovascular risk. A more recent study has even shown a significant link between our self-perceptions of aging and Alzheimer’s Disease.
What these studies teach me, and by extension everyone reading this, is threefold:
- How we think about our age matters.
- It matters because it impacts our decisions and behaviors, which then impact the results we get in the future.
- It even matters when we’re still fairly young.
While profound, these studies are limited. They only address the link between our self-perceptions of aging and our health.
As someone ambitious and on the cusp of middle age, I’m also interested in how my perceptions of aging impact me professionally. More specifically, I’m interested in how they impact my lifetime success, impact, creativity, and happiness.
In my twenties, it felt like the future was infinite. And, as my forties inch their way closer, time is no longer open-ended.
I find myself doing calculations like:
It’s been 18 years since I graduated high school. Right now, according to the most recent actuarial tables, I’ve got about 42 years left to live. In 18 more years, I will be 54, my kids will be 27 and 25, and I’ll have about 26 years left.
Or, if I spend about 10 years on each company I start, that means I have 3–4 more companies in me still.
Each of these reflections essentially has me on a countdown clock to death. Each year that passes by is a year less to live.
At times, I’ve found myself wondering whether I should be savoring life more… rather than being so focused on making investments that will pay off in the future.
More recently, I was inspired to think in a completely different way, and the inspiration came from an unlikely place…
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
Applying Jeff Bezos’ Day One Philosophy To Aging
I first learned about Jeff Bezos’ Day One Philosophy a few years ago in one of his interviews. The idea is that it’s always Day One at Amazon: The attitude he wants the company to take is “Things are just getting started.”
“That’s a cute motto for a 20 year old company,” I thought to myself. It reminded me of a motivational quote I might see on a bumper sticker or refrigerator magnet.
But in 2017, when I read Bezos’ letter to shareholders dedicated to the Day One philosophy, I really realized its true depth. Bezos isn’t saying it to motivate people. He’s saying it because, on many levels, it’s true.
Here is how Bezos begins the letter:
“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
Let me unpack this so you see the profundity of what I saw:
Lesson#1: How Old We Think We Are Determines How We Make Decisions
Let’s take four people who are the same in every way except one detail. One is 10 years old, one is 30, one is 50, and one is 70.
Just on this one detail alone, each of these people would make completely different decisions. Ted would likely not even be thinking about the future, or if he did, he’d imagine it (wrongly) to be infinite. Thistle would invest money in long-term funds and her time and energy in long-term bets — she wouldn’t mind putting five or more years into building a company or a relationship that could lead to marriage. Phil might be more conservative, and Sally would likely be thinking only in the short term.
Lesson #2: We Can Think About Age in Terms of Learning Years Instead of Calendar Years
When someone asks us how old we are, we always answer based on calendar years. But, this way of thinking about our age can be limiting.
We can also think about our age in terms of learning years. Learning years is how old we are based on the knowledge and wisdom we’ve collected.
This is a big deal, because when it comes to calendar years, we age linearly. In other words, for every year that passes, we become one year older.
But when it comes to learning years, we age much slower while our knowledge compounds exponentially.
Why does this happen?
Knowledge has a unique property.
Much like money in an interest-bearing account, knowledge compounds. This happens for several reasons:
- New knowledge can be used over and over for the rest of our lives.
- New knowledge becomes the foundation of future knowledge.
- The practice of acquiring knowledge helps us learn faster.
- Sometimes 2+2 = 5 when it comes to knowledge. Two separate learnings can combine to make something hugely more valuable than the sum of its parts.
Lesson #3: The Fact That Learning Is Exponential Is A Really Big Deal
It’s always worth paying extra special attention to things that grow exponentially. On one end of the exponential curve, it can feel like nothing is happening. On the other end, huge things happen in a short amount of time. It’s counterintuitive, and as a result, we often underestimate its importance.
Let me give you a few examples that show the power of compounding.
Warren Buffett is 88 years old. If he had only lived to 56, his net worth would have been just over $1 billion. Today, his net worth is over $80 billion. In other words, at the age of 56 when most people are thinking about retirement, Buffett was effectively just getting started. His net worth was only 1% of what it was now.
Take the following chart as another example. It shows Amazon’s market value since it went public in 1997:
In the past year, Amazon’s market value has nearly doubled. Measuring by calendar years, last year Amazon had lived 96% of its life. Measuring by market value, it had only lived 50%. Big difference!
Now keep in mind that Jeff Bezos isn’t judging the Day One philosophy based on Amazon’s current market value. He still believes that there is huge potential for Amazon. Amazon is about 1.4% of the grocery market. Amazon AWS, one of Amazon’s most successful spin-offs, grows in lockstep with the size of the Internet, and the Internet Of Things is just getting started. Amazon is also launching its own freight service that will likely compete with UPS and Fedex.
Just as Bezos believes Amazon is only just beginning, we can take that attitude toward aging — not to deny our mortality, but to help us live and learn until the day we die.
If you are someone who consistently sets aside time for deliberate learning and who learns how to learn, then when it comes to learning years, you are just getting started. All of your best ideas and biggest lessons are likely in the future. It’s Day One for you.
The Bottom Line
“It is interesting how much our perception of reality creates reality. You truly can change the world by changing your mind.” — Brenn
Several studies have now shown that our self-perceptions of aging dramatically impact our lifespan.
But, the impact of our self-perceptions on aging is not limited to health. It impacts our success, creativity, and impact in a big way as well.
Jeff Bezos’ Day One Philosophy is a mindset for thinking about time that we can all copy. It keeps us learning, growing, and innovating, because we see the exponential payoff in the future.
While all of us feel aging happen to us, few actually take control of how we perceive our own aging.
As this article shows, this is a big mistake, because how we view our age has a huge impact on our future.
As a result of applying the Day One Philosophy to my own life, I currently spend 4–5 hours per day in deliberate learning. When I think about my future self, I think of someone who will be much wiser and who will think in ways that I can’t even understand or predict now. It helps me look forward to the future, despite gray hairs and crow’s feet, to know that my biggest growth spike is yet to come.
Want to apply the Day One Philosophy to your life as well?
Take this one step now:
Start a daily learning habit.
If you want to unlock incredible growth in your career, business and life, you have to learn consistently.
The good news is, you don’t have to figure it out yourself.
To help you build a bulletproof learning routine starting today, I created a comprehensive, in-depth webinar for you. And, it’s free!
This article was written with love and care using the blockbuster mental model.