Staying Relevant When You Are Old

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I’m 52 years old. Is that old?

I’m not sure. When I was 32, I sure thought 52 was old. But now that I’m here, I don’t feel old. Some of my friends in their 70’s laugh and tell me I’m just getting started. I guess it’s all relative.

I’ve been watching “old” people (for sake of definition, we’ll say 55+) for a long time. My parents turned old a long time ago. My parents’ friends are old. I’ve worked around old people. I’ve worked for old people, and I’ve had old people working for me.

One advantage of being old is you’ve lived a long time. (Right now you are stunned by my brilliance, right? Stay with me). When you are old, you’ve seen a lot. You’ve lived long enough to have known people in their 20’s who are now old.

When I think of people who were leading strong and making a difference in the world when I knew them in their 20’s or 30’s – and also have known them long enough to see them grow old (55+), in my opinion they fall into one of two categories:

They are either still leading strong and relevant.

Or they are irrelevant, and clueless about it.

And here is my hypothesis on the difference between these two types of “old” leaders:

The relevant leader is no longer building a kingdom. They are no longer building off their own strengths. They have shifted their focus from what they can do—and they are now pouring into younger leaders. By spending time with and pouring into those who are younger, they are staying sharp and in the game. By focusing on helping younger leaders succeed and have their moment, that is how they stay relevant. They are using their social capital, influence, wisdom, trust and credibility—and through time and mentoring and just “being” with younger leaders – they are transferring this to the next generation.

This happens in parenting when you stop leading and controlling your kids and you start letting them lead. This happens when you choose to work on a team led by millennials and you tap into their genius and breathe life into their dreams. This happens when you take time to listen to the young adults around you instead of crushing their dreams and quieting their questions.

The irrelevant “old” leader is grasping to hang on. He or she is still building a kingdom. They still power up and lead, but fewer are following. They use old leadership styles and ways of thinking (because that’s what they know) rather than tuning in to young leaders and learning what works in today’s world. They try to hang on to their relevance, but like the emperor with no clothes, they are the last to know it’s no longer effective. 

I want to be relevant well into old age. And I want to do that through pouring into those who have most of their life in front of them.

Who’s with me?

Tim Stevens2 Comments