Q&A: Am I Too Old To Start Something New? #4048 - GROW GREAT Podcast

Q&A: Am I Too Old To Start Something New? #4048

Q&A: Am I Too Old To Start Something New? #4048 - GROW GREAT Podcast

A common thought is that our scope of knowledge, experience and wisdom is commonplace. We can easily discount our assets, especially as we grow older.

According to a Government Accountability Office report, “Older Workers: Demographic Trends Post Challenges for Employers and Workers” –

The term baby boomer describes people born between 1946 and 1964. The baby boomers were part of the post-World War II spike in birth rates. In 1900, thirteen percent of the population was age 50 and over. In 2002, it was over twenty-seven percent. By 2020, it will be over thirty-five percent. The size of the 50 plus population will more than double in the next 35 years. Our nation faces a demographic revolution as 78 million boomers enter their retirement years. A baby boomer turns 60 every 7.5 seconds. This demographic shift will result in tremendous changes in the workplace, civic organization and healthcare.

“According to Census Bureau estimates, in 2019, when the last of the baby boomers (those born between 1949 and 1964) have reached age 55, nearly twenty-nine percent of the total United States population will be age 55 and older, compared with twenty-one percent today.”

Because the Internet is so pervasive older Americans can sometimes feel left behind both technologically and socially. And that has ramifications in business. Specifically, more mature people – people over 50 – can feel trapped and stuck.

Today’s Q&A is among the more common things I hear among more experienced business people. And the shift seems to be going down to lower ages, too. Recently, I was talking with a business leader who was 46 and beginning to feel that it was too late for him to shift or transition into a different opportunity. Forty-six and over the hill! It’s a real feeling. Even a belief for some.

When I’m asked if somebody is too old to start something new it’s in reference to business. Whether it’s a career move – finding another job – or starting a new enterprise, the fear is real. It can be hard, sometimes impossible, to convince a person with over 30 years of solid professional experience that they have tremendous value that can be leveraged. If they don’t believe it, it doesn’t much matter how strong my faith is.

I’m not addressing a person’s ability to start learning something new. I’m confident that people who have sufficient physical and mental health can learn something new until they die. And the Internet affords people an opportunity to consider small scale or larger home-based enterprises that can generate some income. But I’m biased. I don’t believe in retirement. I don’t plan on ever wanting, or being able (emotionally or mentally) to ever retire. So with that bit of background let’s talk about this question, “Am I too old to start something new?”

NO. You aren’t. Unless you think you are!

The Henry Ford quote has already leapt to your mind by now…

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

But let’s put that aside for the moment and talk about the practical realities of today’s post-50 year old who fears their business life is over. Here are the common things I hear so I want to address each of them in hopes it’ll hit you where you live if you’re finding yourself fearing these things.

“The technology has passed me by.”

That’s a self-inflicted wound. I’m tired of hearing people, even folks in their 40’s lament that web-based technology in particular has them baffled. “I don’t understand all this social media stuff,” is among the most common things I hear. It’s largely why I’m recording this episode. Because I’m tired of hearing it and tired of trying to talk people off the ledge about this.

It’s rubbish. If technology has passed you by it’s your own fault. Stop whining about it and do something about it. Don’t tell me you were able to run a multi-million dollar budget, or operate a multi-million dollar division of a company, but you’re too stupid to learn how to function in a world where the web rules everything! It’s how life is now…and how it’s going to be. If you don’t get on board now, just wait until augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) hit bigtime in the next five to ten years. You’re lost because you choose to be lost. You’re behind because you made up your mind that spending time learning this stuff wasn’t worth it.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. Nobody is going to be patient with your refusal to get on board. Dig a hole in your backyard and jump in if you want. OR, make up your mind right now that you’re going to devote some time (just a few hours here and there consistently over time) to learn all you can.

Do you remember the fax machines that had that thermal paper? Sure you do. You filed those papers away and months later you went to retrieve a fax and found a blank piece of thermal paper because the image completely faded away. I’ll bet you did what I learned to do – what we all learned to do. You photocopied the fax. Imagine that today! We PHOTOCOPIED a fax! It was the only way to keep the fax intact for our files.

Then, the plain paper fax arrived and we thought, “BRILLIANT!” Now we can stop photocopying our faxes. These were the days of pagers, too.

When cell phones first arrived they were bag phones, large – bulky – expensive. When they became affordable we ditched our pagers and got on board.

We also sold our turntables and got CD players. We got cable TV and VCRs. We’ve seen a lot of technology changes long before the Internet arrived.

Why are you intimidated by web-based tech? Think about all the tech you’ve embraced and mastered. You’ve got a lifetime of adapting, adjusting and learning. Stop convincing yourself that now – at whatever age you are – it’s all passed you buy. Rubbish!

We can learn whatever we want to learn. Especially the things we’re talking about. I’m not trying to convince you to learn quantum physics. It’s the Internet and you’re likely just romanticizing life before. Stop it. That life is over. It’s not coming back. And you don’t want it to, either.

Mostly I hear people complain about social media when we talk about the Internet. Or smart phones. But put me in a room of older business people and I promise every hand will go up if I ask, “Who has a Facebook profile?” or “Who has an iPhone or some other phone that has apps on it?” Every single hand. I know 80 year old business people who have both. Proof that we can learn these things enough to incorporate them into our lives.

It’s not a capacity issue as much as it’s a bitterness issue. People act like they hate the world is today. Some honestly do hate it. They’re being stubborn and hard headed. Look in the mirror and remember how your grandfather lamented how the kids today have gone to the dogs. Congrats, you’re now him! 😉

The irony is that today’s 60 year old is behaving significantly younger than any previous generation of 60 year olds. Today’s 60 is yesterday’s 40 thanks in large part to technology. That smart phone in your pocket has more computing power than those Apollo missions that went to the moon. But you’re still in love with the notion of life before we all had them? Don’t be stupid. Stop being stupid.

Here’s the remedy. Clear your head from the prejudices and romantic notions and be thankful that you’re alive in an age where our possibilities are almost limitless. Show some gratitude you old fart. Quit magnifying the difficulties or challenges and start looking at the opportunities. First, the opportunity to learn.

Here’s an idea. Do you have kids (or grandkids)? Spend time with them talking about how they use the Internet. Tell them you want to learn. Ask them to teach you. Don’t judge. Don’t tell them how stupid they are to spend hours a week on Instagram or Snapchat. Just listen, observe, watch and learn.

It’s just communication, conversation and engagement. That’s all. It’s no different than what you used to do when a new neighbor moved into that house a few doors down. You went over, introduced yourself and began the process of getting to know them. Today, much of that is done via another online app called Nextdoor. It’s all about connection, conversation and engagement. It’s just done on a mobile device using an app and a platform that easily connects you to the people you most want to engage. Yes, you have to want to engage. So if you want to be a hermit, then stop reading or listening and go find your cave. But if you want out of the cave, come out here where the people are. Nothing bad will happen to you.

Yes, it takes some time. But the cumulative time you spend will pay off quickly. A few hours a week will provide you the education you need. Within just a few weeks you’ll be well on your way. Proof that it’s not too late to start something new. And yes, it’ll have practical application to your career and business pursuits.

If you want to go fishing you first have to know where the fish are. Well, the people are online. Moan and groan about it or get with the program and meet them where they are. Your choice.

“Nobody wants me. I’m too old.”

First of all, that may not be true. And even if it is, that doesn’t mean your options are limited.

Get out of your head and stop bemoaning how you’re no longer valuable. A common refrain among mature business people is the feeling that they’ve spent their life learning about business, they have skills, experience and wisdom — and they still have energy and drive. Many of them feel they’re in their prime, but they see a world they (incorrectly) think is dominated by 20 year olds.

There’s no doubt that young people today – many of them – have mad skills in technical and non-technical spaces. But what many of them lack is what mature people have in spades, emotional intelligence. The ability to be part of a team working together to accomplish something none of them could individually. Mature people have patience often lacking in younger people. Mature people experience far less drama about interpersonal situations in the workplace, too. And many mature business people are well-rounded having spent their lives dealing with a variety of business challenges. Got an HR problem? They likely have seen it before. Got an operational issue? Ditto, they likely have a wealth of experience from which to draw from.

Here’s the problem. Mature business people, those who’ve been “transitioned” out of a previous role, have lost their confidence. They’ve spent years solving a variety of problems. I regularly find mature business people who are quite skilled at approaching a problem in very effective ways because they’ve seen so many challenges before. But now they feel that their knowledge, skill, experience and wisdom is commonplace. But it’s not true.

We live in our head and know what we know. That makes it tempting to think everybody has whatever we’ve got. Until you stop to soberly consider your life experiences, in and out of the workplaces you’ve occupied, and all the business issues you’ve faced…it’s easy to discount yourself. Stop it. These are assets you’ve spent a lifetime earning. Now is the time to leverage those resources to serve you.

It’s tantamount to a business owner with some valuable resources diminishing their worth. If you had battled and spent good money getting a patent on something you believed had value, would you toss is aside as worthless? Not likely. But that’s what you’re doing with your life’s experience.

Here’s the hard truth. If you don’t find value in yourself then nobody will see value in you either. You’re toast.

Get over the idiotic generalization that NOBODY wants you. The world is filled with people who don’t want you, or me, or millions of other people. Your value isn’t based on them. Except you’re letting them establish your worth. That’s your fault. And mistake.

Step 1, know yourself. I know, I know. You’d think by now you’d know exactly who you are. Sometimes mature business people are among the most confused people around in this regard. Partly because many of stumbled into our careers because we started doing something when we were young. We spent little or no time diving into such touchy feely things. And now that we’re mature we may be tempted to think it’s a ridiculous exercise. Well, it’s not. It’s critically important for you to get in touch with what you dread. I know people will tell you to find your passion, but I tend to approach it from a reverse perspective because it’s often easier, quicker and more effective. We can easily identify what we dread. It’s much harder for some people to identify what they’re passionate about. Besides, mature business people have likely spent a lot of their life doing things they’re not passionate about because maturity teaches us practicality. I’m betting you’ve done many things in your life, and done them well, but they weren’t passions for you. Nor were they things you dreaded. Dread empties your tank robbing you of energy. So when you’re self-reflecting, I’m urging you to know what you dread and steer clear of those things! While you’re identifying your dread, think about your desire. Desire fuels you. Dread robs you. More of one, less of the other. That’s the recipe.

Step 2, stop diminishing your talent, knowledge, experience and wisdom. That 20 year old may have more talent than you in some things, but he’s not lived as much as you. Your stuff has value. Stop comparing yourself to him. Stop thinking of what you don’t have and concentrate instead on what you do have. Again, it’s time to be grateful for all those struggles you’ve endured.

Let me point out something to illustrate. This resonates with everybody mature business person I know. Think about the economic cycles you’ve experienced during your career. The other day I was talking with a business owner who is slightly older than me. We both remembered days of double-digit inflation, double-digit mortgage interest rates, oil embargoes and more. Business people under 40 don’t remember any of that because they’ve not seen it. Yet.

I’ve not taken the time to calculate the economic cycles I’ve lived through in business, but I know it’s vast. It requires adjustments and problem solving that no mature business person should down play. That’s just one illustration of your value.

Step 3, believe. If you don’t think you’re valuable, then you’re doomed already. I won’t believe in you more than you believe in yourself.

Step 4, open yourself to opportunities. Can you leverage your assets to build something of your own? Of course you can. Brace yourself because it’s gonna get real up in here now. A displaced CEO who once earned nearly $400K a year plus all the perks imaginable now confesses that he’d be perfectly happy – HAPPY – if he could create something sustainable that would garner him about $60K a year…with no benefits. He just wants to do something to contribute and make enough to sustain his current debt-free lifestyle. We chuckle about how he feels like he’s working harder than ever to earn 15% of what he once earned. FIFTEEN PERCENT and he’d be happy! Doable? Of course it is. The man has mad skills and experience. He just has to figure it out and make his own path. I don’t know what that will look like for him because I don’t know what he dreads, or what he really desires.

Stop seeing challenges everywhere you look. Instead, see opportunities, then figure out how to best take advantage of them. That’s what you’ve been used to doing in your career. Except now it’s personal. It’s YOU, INC. I know that makes an enormous difference, often presenting you with a special kind of head trash. If it helps, do what I do. Post a picture of your tribe nearby. My picture has 10 people, not including me: my wife, my son, my daughter, my daughter-in-law, my son-in-law and my five grandkids. Ten people. That’s enough to suppress any head trash if I’ll just remain focused. When I don’t, my inner critic can get the best of me. It’s my job to pull out every MMA move I can and get my inner critic to tap out. Better yet, I want to wrestle my inner critic into submission or knock him out. Find your reason for fighting, then get busy trying to win.

Let me end with one final word of encouragement. Every successful mature business person I’ve ever known has a trump card called “work ethic.” You know nothing beats effort. The discipline you’ve developed to work hard is second nature for you. Embrace it. Don’t undersell it. Just get engaged with the reality of your situation – and your assets – then go make it happen. Refuse to lose and eventually you’ll win. We both know there’s no way to tell how long it will take, but we know we’re on the clock so we have to make the wisest use of every single day. Now get busy!

And let me know how it’s going. I’m here cheering you on.

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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