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Written by: Jan Allen
Date: May 29, 2014

Cat eyes

“Sky in your eyes” – The sky in the eyes is from Dolomiti, one of Italy’s greatest mountain ranges. Photo: ecatoncheires

As an executive coach, I work with career professionals of all ages.

But I also offer a coaching program called “Life Design for Your 3rd/3rd” to help people 60-years-old and over intentionally create the life of their dreams for this life stage.

With virtually everyone who has participated in this program, I’ve seen three myths, hard-wired in them as beliefs, at the beginning of our work together:

  1. Aging is all decline.
  2. No one will want to hire me or utilize my skills because of my age.
  3. I need to prepare to be mentally less competent.

Dangerous beliefs, why?  Because, generally speaking, what we take to be real is what shows up in our experience.  In other words, believe any one of these things is true and it will indeed turn out that way.

We get confused, though, thinking that these are objective facts, and that we must live the consequences of these facts, instead of understanding that it works the other way around.  Often, we are the cause, because believing is seeing.

So, this is what I remind people.

Aging it NOT all decline

Much of what we consider aging is the result of a sedentary lifestyle.  In fact, not only has our expected life span increased dramatically, but many people are living healthy, or relatively so, until the last month or week or day of life.

Younger Next Year

Younger Next Year

For most, it is generally true that we must work more intentionally on keeping our container (i.e. our bodies) in good working order, with exercise, sleep and decent nutritional habits.  But as one of my favorite books, Younger Next Year, describes, 45 minutes a day, six days a week of some kind of activity, can virtually reverse the effects of aging.  The theory behind it?

That just as life is all growth or decay, our cells regenerate themselves every four months or so IF the cycle of regeneration is triggered by the body’s natural need to move.  I’ve tried it; it works for me. Everything works better.

Whether or not you buy this particular theory, what’s important is to jettison your belief and try what works for you.  (Granted, I have to use more moisturizers at this age, use crazy socks to separate my toes because of my gnarled feet and take some systemic enzymes to keep the elasticity in some of my joints, but usually I find problems go away when my 6-days a week exercise routine is in place.)

People WILL hire you or want to utilize my skills so long as they know you’re interested:  There is likely some age discrimination in the workplace.  What I see most often, though, are people wanting to do something but self-selecting out before they even try, for fear that this might be true.

What I believe is different about this life stage is not that we can’t work or volunteer, but that we must intentionally, and out loud, let the world know what it is we’re interested in doing.

When we make our intentions clear – whether in mid-career or later life – opportunity intersects.  It may be easier in mid-career because we’re in work that is already highly visible and others see it and think of us.  In this life stage, though, we may need to more intentionally put our desires and wishes out there, and display our energy and expertise.  Once we do, age melts away.

There IS positive power in the aging brain

The Mature Mind

The Mature Mind

Yes, dementia happens, and we don’t know whom it will strike.  Cognitive decline, though, isn’t inevitable.  It helped me greatly to understand the difference between fluid and crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence, which peaks in our late 20’s, produces solutions not based on experience, pattern recognition or abstract thinking.  (and includes our ability to remember facts, figures, names, etc.)

Crystallized intelligence is acquired through experience, education, inductive reasoning and judgment, which is why, at this age, we come up with novel solutions to problems very quickly.  It doesn’t peak until at least our late 60’s.  Plus continuing to encounter the novel helps our brains build new pathways.  These ideas expanded on by Gene D. Cohen in his book The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain.  He shows how, in some ways, the aging brain is more flexible than younger ones.