Getting older is just fine, thank you!

I was shopping for a birthday card for a friend today and was struck by the sentiment on virtually all the cards: “you’re getting older, how sad for you.” Of course, I nodded sagely, wouldn’t it be great if he were turning 30 instead of 40?

But wait a second. My 20s, by and large, sucked. My 30s have been a much better decade, and all indications are that my 40s will be even better. I’ve actually learned a bit about saving money, I know more about living a happy life, and frankly, the older I get, the more I just chill out. So much of what seems important is really just minor, ten years down the line. And many of today’s crises will seem just as silly a decade from now.

And growing older brings experience. I’ve actually learned something about the world. My predictions get better. Sometimes that depresses me. But I’ve also learned to change what I can and accept what I can’t. (Well … some of the time. The current political climate is pushing the edge of my coping ability.)

Of course, the shocker is that as you get older, you realize some choices really are permanent. At my age, it’s too late to pursue a tenure-track career at an Ivy-league quality university. And some of my early career choices have had long-term implications–both positive and negative–that have shaped life in unexpected ways. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? By the time you have the perspective to make some of the most important choices well, you’re 10 years past the decision.

But you can learn from others’ experience. That’s what old people are for! They’ve been there. They’ve seen it. They have perspective. Once upon a time, families lived in close community, and what wisdom there was could get passed down from older generations to younger. These days, we pretend old people don’t exist, and we certainly don’t listen to them very closely. After all, they’re no longer beautiful, so they couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say.

Frankly, many of them don’t. Many people aren’t very reflective, and as soon as they leave school, they stop learning and reflecting on the world. At age 60, they have 40 more years of experience, they’ve learned the same lessons 40 times and called it wisdom. Those aren’t the people to hang out with.

The ones to hang out with are the ones who learn, grow, and change. I met a woman in her 80s who was proclaiming her 80s her best decade yet. She was starting her third company and loving every minute of it. She traveled, she knew all kinds of people, and she knew more about the world than many people ever learn.

Next time you have a birthday, celebrate! You’re building a foundation. You’re having an impact. And you’re becoming a valuable part of the human race’s wisdom. You can help it along by encouraging those around you to learn and grow with you. Seek out older people, hear their stories, and where it makes sense, bring their experience to bear on your life.

Now I’ve got to head out. I’ve a birthday party to catch…

Getting older is just fine, thank you!

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