Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship last Sunday. At age 50, he is the oldest person to do so. Anthony Hopkins received the Best Actor Oscar award this year for his role in The Father, making him at age 83 the oldest person to receive an Oscar. He edged out Christopher Plummer’s supporting actor win at age 82 in the 2010 film Beginners. At 77, Joe Biden is the oldest person to be elected president. Donald Trump was 70 when he took office. Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left office. Bob Dylan celebrated his 80th birthday on Monday. Dylan released his 39th album Rough and Rowdy Ways last summer. Janet Yellen is 74 and is the first person in American history to have led the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the Federal Reserve, and the Treasury Department. Martha Stewart is 79. Dr. Fauci turned 80 last December. Nancy Pelosi is 81. Warren Buffett is 90. So, what is my point?
I am amazed at the energy, grit, determination and talent each of these people displays. In a sense, all of them have used their age to their advantage, giving themselves the benefit of experience and perspective.
Approximately one-third of Americans are age 50 or older. Yet so much of American culture is focused on youth, looking younger, marketing to young people—90 percent of marketing dollars are targeted to people under 50 even though people over age 50 have substantially more disposable income.
And for those who doubt that rampant ageism exists in this country, ask anyone over age 50 how difficult it is to find a job. This is true even though studies have repeatedly shown that assumptions about older workers–that they are inflexible, slow, unorganized, difficult, and expensive to train have proven to be false. Instead, studies show that older workers are more committed to their jobs, have less turnover, and less absenteeism than younger workers. They are also less likely to get mired in office politics and more likely to share their knowledge, mentor and coach junior staff, and put issues in their proper perspective.
Vivian Clayton, a geriatric neuropsychologist, developed a definition of wisdom which consists of three key components: cognition, reflection and compassion. She explains that it takes time to gain insights and perspectives from one’s own knowledge and to use those insights to help others. I think we can all agree that more compassion, kindness and teamwork in the workplace would be a good thing.
A current phenomenon is the pairing of a younger person with an older person for remarkable results. Think Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga concerts. They were amazing. Lady Gaga beautifully sang Tony Bennett’s classic songs, and Tony Bennett became quite popular with the younger generation. Or Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg. Despite their 30-year age difference, they thoroughly enjoy and appreciate each other’s company and perspectives. And they both have become relevant to the other’s followers. Snoop Dogg once said, “When we come together, it’s a natural combination of love, peace and harmony.”
Studies have shown that such cognitive diversity—that is building teams with a spectrum of ages and experiences—is more likely to produce successful results. Such teams also encourage innovation, freedom to brainstorm without fear, and acceptance of different points of view.
As Bob Dylan once said: “Ah, I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” Sometimes wisdom comes with the realization that things we were so certain of in our youth must be reexamined with a whole new lens. Age brings this type of wisdom. Let’s embrace it, celebrate it, and mine its potential.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of an international consulting firm. Since she retired, she has focused on writing, reading, piano, gardening, kayaking, nature and travel.