When I was a kid, 60 was old. How old? Really old. Early Bird Special old. Potbelly and gold watch old. God’s waiting room old.
That is, if you are lucky enough to still be here.
Today, 60 is no longer a division, a time-bound River Styx, separating the young, vibrant, and tributing from the doddering and slobbering. It’s not even “just a number.” Nothing.
I turned 60 from a biological perspective this past summer, and quite honestly, I expected the wheel to fall off. But I still have my hair, my guts, and my capacity to serve. If it weren’t for mirrors, a youth culture, and the dreaded welcome package from the AARP, I wouldn’t know I wasn’t still 42.
A youth culture is a strange thing. It’s actually an advertising or marketing culture, because younger people have more disposable income and have made fewer fixed choices about their deodorant, running shoes, and the whole panoply of modern consumer culture. So the young are revered, especially by marketers and advertisers, and, of course, by themselves.
But this makes no sense. As Rabbi Noach Orlowek, a Jerusalem-based educator points out, older people know more than younger people simply by virtue of having been around longer. As he says, “Gray hair means information center! Ask us something!”
This weekend, I’m in New York City to run with Achilles International as a guide runner for a disabled runner. It will be my eighth such run for that group. Over the last few years, I’ve run with a cancer survivor, a man who suffered a stroke and brain damage after a car accident, a woman with scoliosis, a woman otherwise healthy but with limited mental capacity (who was a heck of a lot happier than most “normal” people I’ve ever met), a deaf runner, and so on. Marathoning is actually one of the few sports at which you get better as you age. Your running muscles get stronger, and psychologically, you know what to expect. That’s not something a lot of sixty-somethings were doing back in the day.
While people my age once faced mandatory retirement, most people my age today show no signs of quitting. Psychologists point out that retirement without a plan for what’s next typically triggers the three Ds: depression, divorce, and death. People my age may be retiring, but by and large they have a very clear idea of what they’re going to do next, and it’s more than the wait for their next tee time.
Dan Sullivan, founder of the entrepreneurial coaching company, Strategic Coach, makes a bigger point. He says that individuals in their 50s and 60s must have a 25-year plan, a 2.0 for their lives, if you will, one that will take them into their late 70s or even their 80s.
“Twenty-five years is one hundred quarters,” he points out. “You don’t have to kill it in the first quarter – you’ve got 99 more. But if you don’t have a 25-year plan that inspires and excites you, and gets you out of bed in the morning, you’re basically giving death an assist.” When I heard him say that, I thought, truer words have never been spoken. If you start telling yourself things like, “I don’t need to learn a new language,” or “I don’t really need to develop a new hobby,” or “I don’t need to do anything new or different,” you’re essentially inviting your body and brain to shut down.
And they will surely heed your guidance, with fatal results.
I have a 25-year plan, and it involves writing books in an area I’ve never written about, as well as writing and performing music. I’ve published three books so far in this new area, and this past summer I released my first CD, put a band together, and did our first two shows. We’re looking at a European tour next summer.
I’m not going to tell you that “60 is the new 50” or some other numerical cliché. Instead, I’m going to tell you that 60 isn’t anything.
The key to finishing a marathon is pretty simple – just keep moving in the direction of your goal. The mile markers provide some useful information, but all that really matters is your desire, your energy, and your will.
Is that a metaphor for life? Believe it, life no longer ends at 60, and I’m not going to sit here and tell you that life begins at 60, either. Instead, the meaning at this age is the same as the meaning of any point on the continuum when we have the gift of consciousness, awareness, intelligence, and a brand new day in which to enjoy them.
Just keep on moving.