Reinventing myself? We have all heard the responses when seniors hear this: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “That’s fine for young people but not for someone like me.” “I’m happy with my life just as it is.”
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You. Clark talks about being approached by an older woman while she was promoting her book. According to Clark, the woman paged through the book for a moment, then put it down. “Too late for me,” she said abruptly and walked away.
And while it is true that changing careers, trying new hobbies, or changing our lifestyle can be more difficult as we get older, it still can be done. And it’s the quest, as much as the change, that keeps us mentally – and sometimes physically – younger.
Baby Boomers and Change
“That’s not how I was raised.” For baby boomers, and to some extent GenXers, that was true.
Baby boomers – that includes me – were raised by parents who lived through the Great Depression. As young adults, teenagers or children in those years, they knew deprivation firsthand. And they knew one other thing: they would never suffer through that again if there was any way to avoid it.
The boom years of the postwar period and through the 1950s provided economic stability in the country. But that wasn’t enough. After all, the economy had been booming in 1929 – until it wasn’t.
Personal economic stability was the key. I remember my father telling me that I should do my best to get a good job and “hold onto it.” There was no room in the minds of those who, having survived the Great Depression, for job hopping – for reinventing themselves.
Even if he was not particularly happy with his job, the responsible thing for a man to do was to hang on to the best job he could find. Maybe he could look forward to playing golf or sitting in his rocker after retirement, but until then it was nose-to-the-grindstone. Work hard, try to put away some savings, and never do anything to put that job stability in jeopardy.
Likewise, boomer women were raised to dedicate themselves to supporting their husbands and raising their 2.3 children with the same values instilled in them. Work hard in school. Get good grades so they can get a good job where they will spend their entire career. And one day, they too would have a stable life1, just as their parents had.
There’s a Change A-Coming
Of course, not everyone followed the one-career path. Sometimes life’s circumstances forced people to reinvent themselves. But few of my generation did it willingly.
Within my organization, where I worked for 32 years, I held several different positions. And in 1991, I was in charge of Personnel – Human Resources in today’s terminology.
That year, I attended a symposium in Washington, DC hosted by the World Future Society. The topic of the symposium was the changing view of careerism in the minds of those coming into the workforce in the last decade of the 20th century.
I well remember one prediction from the symposium. It addressed the changing response to the classic pre-employment question, “Where do you see yourself in five years.”
Whereas those of my generation responded to that question with answers like “a supervisor in this company” or “a division head in this company”, the symposium speaker predicted a new answer.
“Within the next five years, when you ask that question of a potential employee, the answer likely will be, ‘working somewhere else.’ And it won’t work to reject a prospective employee for giving that answer, because that will be a common response.”
I saw that prediction come to pass.
Careerism Over Ideals
My friend, Erik Eckel, in a blog post titled, Are Millennials Solving Gen X’s Career v. Idealism Conundrum?, quoted author David Kamp. He said, “I think that a lot of Boomers and Generation X people got caught up in careerism and making money ahead of their ideals.”
Eckel went on to say, “Millennials, in my experience, pair a new mindset with a liberty unique to their generation. They continually cultivate the combination and leverage the blend to their advantage … One could reasonably conclude Millennials are living for fairness and the pursuit of genuine and meaningful experiences.”
Nose-to-the-grindstone has fallen into the background of modern life2.
There is no question that the business world is changing at a pace inconceivable even 50 years ago. In my time, the basic job changed little over the course of my career. That is not the case today. For people entering the job market today, as well as those in mid-career, reinventing themselves in the workforce is vital. But here, we’re really talking about personal reinvention and growth.
What of those of us whose career life is past, or soon will be? Is it true that we must be destined to a life of Saturday golf, bad movies on tv, and reading the newspaper in a recliner?
Absolutely not. In fact, reinventing ourselves – trying new things, seeking new experiences – is key to keeping us healthy.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that keeping your brain active increases its vitality. Doing new things in new ways appears to help retain brain cells and connections. It may even produce new brain cells. In essence, breaking out of your routine can help keep your brain stay healthy3.
Keeping our brain healthy is a major contributor to ‘staying young’. In 1785, William Cowper said, “Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.”4 From this, we get the modern saying, “Variety is the spice of life.”
Even though we might not be physically capable of some things anymore, that does not mean we cannot engage in activities to keep ourselves mentally fit. And with that comes a more positive outlook on life, an attitude of hope for the future, and just an all around good feeling.
Getting Old Doesn’t Mean Acting Old
Okay, you’re middle-aged, or past that. You’ve worked your entire life and maybe tucked away a little money. “This reinventing yourself sounds good, but what can someone my age do?”
- Look for things that challenge your mind and expose you to new views. It can be as simple as walking a different direction when you take your daily walk or go to the store. We all get into the habit of a comfortable route. But who knows what you might see on a different route that peaks your interest?
- Try new ways to accomplish routine tasks. Think you can’t find a little juvenile fun in something as mundane as taking out the trash? How did you do it when if first became your responsibility as a child? Odds are, at least once, you pretended the trash bag was a basketball and the trash bin was a goal. Swish. You sank that bag without touching the rim – and it was fun.
- Reconnect with your past. If you’ve spent years in a particular company, you have probably associated primarily with other employees and perhaps your neighbors at home. But what about people from your younger days? What has your best friend from high school or college been doing all these years? Reconnect and reminisce.
- Engage in social media. For better or worse, social media is here to stay and it continues to grow as a presence in our lives. It’s a great way to connect with that friend from your past or far-away family members.
- Try new foods. There are many blogs dedicated to recipes of all types. And if you don’t know how to cook – learn.
- Learn a new language. This is probably one of the best ways to engage your brain and keep those neurons moving.
I have been a proponent of reinvention all my life. Yes, I’m a baby boomer, but I am also blessed with a natural curiosity and love of learning. Even in my nose-to-the-grindstone career, my love of learning paid dividends.
- When it was time to retire, I looked for other challenges. I had once started writing a novel, mostly as a cathartic relief from what I saw as an unacceptable situation. When my anger was released in the early draft, I put it aside – penning the words on paper, and modifying the narrative, allowed me to move past my feelings about something I could not otherwise change. Years later, seeking a new challenge, I decided to complete the story as a full novel. That led to writing and publishing four more novels within two years.
- My brother had always been an accomplished photographer. I dabbled with it in high school but never acquired the drive to even make it a hobby5. My writing ‘career’ completed, I decided I might like photography if I applied myself to it. It remains a favorite hobby today.
- Earlier I mentioned learning a language. I learned Spanish in high school, and even though I have rarely used it in real-life situations, I try to read a book in Spanish now and then. It keeps my mind fresh.
- Likewise, after high school, I dated a friend of my cousin’s who had been an actress in Japan. From her, I learned a smattering of Japanese. But in recent years, I have decided to immerse myself more in learning that language – a challenge because it is so unlike western languages.
What’s my next challenge? I have no idea, although I’ve started writing a regular blog, so I suppose that counts. But it doesn’t really matter what the challenge is, so long as I’m trying something new – reinventing myself again and again.
Are you 50 or older? If so, what kinds of things are you doing to reinvent yourself – to stay young at heart? Tell us in the comments below.
- I addressed the issue of common rituals of 1950s life and how they contributed to a sense of well-being in another post.
- My son, at age 45, is on his seventh or eighth job, including time working at Microsoft’s headquarters as well as time running his own small tech company. My step-son, at 31, is working at his third major corporation since graduate school.
- Roth, Erica. (2017, September 2). The Importance of Mental Fitness. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/mental-fitness
- From the poem, The Task, by William Cowper
- Lack of attention to basic photography is one of my life’s regrets. I’ve been fortunate to have visited many great places. But most of those experiences exist only in my memories because I wasn’t disciplined enough to take a few photos. The same is true for many of my other life events.