The untapped potential of senior citizens

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”
Betty Friedan

Here are some musings as I look at my own journey and not so distant future as a senior citizen. These musings lead me to a realization that we need to do a better job of harnessing the untapped potential of the senior citizens.

As I was looking out from my hotel window I began to think about the decades that have passed by. I thought about the evolution of my dreams and how those dreams have shaped me along the way. I remembered reading somewhere that the environment in which a child spends first four years of his/ her life has a deep impact on shaping his/ her emotional personality for the rest of his/her life. As I thought deeper, I had an epiphany. My emotional relationship with my work has a lot to do with the first few years of my college education and career. Just as I had the privilege of spending the initial years of my life in a loving, caring and nurturing environment, where my innate creativity was encouraged, I was fortunate to have started my career in environments that were supportive, rewarding, and forgiving of mistakes. I was encouraged to set up meaningful goals, achieve small successes and learn from every success or failure. No wonder, just as in my personal life, even in work life I do not feel bruised by obstacles , defeated by failures, discouraged by negative attitudes, nor exhausted by struggles. As I reflected about my journey and the years that have passed by, I began to wonder why I don’t feel old or outdated. Considering how fast the world around me is changing and the fresh ideas, skills and tools that are today dominating the modern day workplace, I should have been feeling like a dinosaur in the contemporary work place. Why do I still feel like I can ride the rodeo of a vibrant, disruptive and fast paced culture of innovation and change? Well I think I found the answer.

Early years of secure, nurturing, and caring environment at home and at work has helped me imbibe a spirit of curiosity and exploration without fear of failure or reprimand. My cravings for reward are driven more by desire for new experiences and epiphanies rather than for material possessions. My sense of accomplishments is driven less by how I personally progress than by how we as a team stack up small successes and have a recognizable impact on those who we serve. Failures give me an opportunity to learn and grow. New knowledge and new technologies stimulate my imagination of how I might use the new knowledge and new tools to expand our influence and deepen our impact.

The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you’re learning you’re not old.
Rosalyn S. Yalow

The years that have passed have created greater resilience and humility in me and contained my ego. I recognize that the information in the world is much greater than the knowledge I can fill in my brain in a life time. I realize that the impact I can have alone is negligible compared to the change I can bring about by partnering with a network of people with shared values and vision. I realize that innovators and change makers must not just aspire for a change they can see in their own life time and benefit from it. We should aspire for the change that may seem impossible to achieve in our life time but will benefit future generations. Chasing a distant and impossible dream is a purposeful path.

The years spent working, learning and building relationships help cultivate hope and subdues negativity. The real value of decades of experience is that it makes one a better learner. A person willing to learn is never outdated. Years of learning makes the brain cells more active, alert intuitive and creative. It’s a paradox that as we age our bodies become frail but our brain becomes vibrant. Stephen Hawking is testimony to the fact that a person with a curious and vibrant brain but a crippled body can contribute more to the society than an able bodied person who has not cared to exercise and explore the potential of his/ her brain.

When we are young we dream big, we are passionate, impatient and want to move fast to attain our dreams. As we gain more experience we become more mindful and move at a cautious pace. We observe more, notice more and intuitively synthesize information in the brain. Our brains have had more time to practice how to learn.

In conclusion, as we build teams for innovation and sustainable change, we must harness the immense potential of the senior citizens. They will bring balance, vision, hope and perseverance to bear on the team and help bring about a sustainable and long term change. A vast pool of talent remains untapped.

There is also a take away for the young. Just as we do retirement planning by making right investments that will provide us the means to live a life we want to lead, we must also make another kind of investment. Early on we must make a retirement plan for mental and energy resources. We must envision our future, plan for maintaining a positive attitude and abundant curiosity, and to maintain the zeal to think creatively when our bodies will become frail but the minds will yearn for continued participation in the society.