Listen to the audio version of this post here.
How old do you feel?
Notice I’m not asking how old you are. That’s none of my business, and besides, the response to my actual question is less automatic. And more interesting.
It turns out that for most of us, the answer to “How old do you feel?” does not match what it says on our driver’s license.
It’s worth exploring, as the question of age is so much in the news. Democrats are fretting about President Biden’s 80th birthday a few months back, and whether it’s a barrier to reelection. Republicans are, many of them anyway, leaning toward someone younger and fresher than Donald Trump.
Senator Dianne Feinstein is (finally!) retiring and a slew of younger Californians can’t wait to take her place. Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley will be 90 this year. But Feinstein and Grassley have plenty of company.
Nearly a quarter of the people serving in Congress are over 70. And most don’t seem ready to exit the stage.
Ego, vanity, power, all of that. And I’d guess they stick around partly because they just don’t feel over 70.
The issue is our “subjective age.”
If I ask how old you are in your head, what comes to your mind? That’ll give you an idea of your subjective age. It’s not just about how you feel physically, but how you perceive yourself.
And the chances are good, the number that comes up does not reflect reality.
The Atlantic writer Jennifer Senior cites research showing adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age.
Turns out I’m stunningly average. I’ve given it some thought, and concluded that in general, I pretty much feel 56. Yes, when I put the numbers into that online calculator, that’s exactly 80 percent of my actual chronological age.
I wonder if maybe this subjective age phenomenon reflects what you do and with whom…
At lunch with Jenny at the Redstone American Grill, talking about our work and, well, all the rest of it … it always seems to me that we’re about the same age. In fact, we’re not.
When I’m on the phone laughing with Allecia (and we laugh a lot), it feels as if we’re in the same general age group. In reality, I believe I’m about the same age as Allecia’s mother.
Even on LinkedIn, I consider Eileen, D. Fish, and my fellow-Catherine as my peers when in truth they’re all younger than I am, and at different points in their business or career.
And that may be a big part of this distorted perception of our own age, that sense of where we are in our own careers. Or our own lives.
As my high school reunion made clear, many of my friends who are my age or thereabouts have already moved to Florida, Tennessee, or Arizona and settled in to enjoy retirement. Me? I’m not ready to call it quits, and I’m happy to have some classmates as company.
In fact, I’m working on a project with one of them now. Stay tuned for more from Deb Dietz and me in the next few weeks.
This discrepancy between our chronological age and our felt age isn’t peculiar to Americans. It is greater, though in the United States, Europe, and Australia. The differential is smaller in Asia, and smaller yet Africa.
So, should we move to Japan?
Yale Professor Becca Levy spent some time there and concluded that a positive attitude toward aging is connected to doing that aging for a longer time. Yes, the Japanese, on average, live longer than we do in the U.S.
In Breaking the Age Code, Levy points out they’re also more active later in their lives than those in many in other cultures. You’ll see people in their 70s and 80s in Japanese parks doing calisthenics and lifting weights.
It may not be a coincidence that they celebrate Keiro No Hi in Tokyo. That would be “Respect for the Aged Day.”
Maybe we can move the needle instead.
Corporate culture poses some obstacles. You probably know people who’ve been shunted aside in favor of someone younger, with less experience, and commensurately lower compensation. DEI initiatives often overlook diversity of ages, and they’re often ignored even when they do take age into account.
Those are issues we need to address as a society. But what about us, as individuals?
As The Atlantic points out, a sense of agency makes all the difference when it comes to how we feel about our own actual, chronological age, and about others growing older. That means taking charge of ourselves, doesn’t it?
Being active, physically and even socially, can change everything.
Learning new skills, adding to our repertoire makes a difference. And it certainly helps to see ourselves as useful—at any age, we have something to offer.
My offer: I’d be delighted to show you how Fascinating you are, no matter your age. Consider some coaching to include the Fascinate® Assessment and a plan for making the most of your Fascinate Advantages. If you’re ready to pull out all the stops, let’s talk.
And I’m dying to hear how old you feel! And how that compares to your actual age. I’ll be watching for your comment.
Thank you Catherine! I’ve actually thought about this a lot but did not know the statistics you gave. Fascinating! 😊 We are the same age and turns out we also identify with the same age. I am happily retired from other work but still teach yoga, which is an important part of my staying young. My classes now are geared toward helping an older crowd age well but I have students who are chronologically much younger, as well as older. Mike and I work out together. We are active. We feel good. We mostly socialize with people our age, but they also seem much younger, even those with health issues. I’m happy to know so many people who are shifting the perception of aging. Attitude is incredibly important and our own matters more than anyone else’s!
It’s interesting, Linda, how the people we socialize with also seem younger than their chronological age. Maybe we really are aging differently than our parents and certainly our grandparents did. Medical science is part of that; we can survive illnesses they couldn’t. But it’s also, as you suggest, a matter of activity. And attitude. Writing this piece has been a reminder to me to boost both.
Catherine, I saw the beginning of that article but didn’t want to subscribe to read the rest. Thank you for bringing up this topic. I feel as you do, I feel as if I’m in my mid-fifties. I would be bored senseless if I retired and moved from here. I’m thrilled that I can be physically active (1.5 years ago I discovered Pilates Reformer classes); I enjoy my work as an Instructional Designer; and I enjoy the time I get to spend with my 2 grandsons. I love learning about them and I’m not ready to be an old lady.
Someone recently asked me what it was like to be my age (he is 16 years younger). I replied that I don’t know – just maybe a little more wisdom. I’m more active now than I was when I was younger.
Norma, I’m struck by the things you mentioned: physical activity, professional challenges, AND family time. They may be the key to contentment at any age. The variety–and the balance–seem important.
Catherine — I love this concept, as it is something I have discussed with my loved ones over the years. “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” is how we’ve phrased it. I never considered that people in other countries would have a different way of looking at themselves — your storytelling is once again very interesting.
I’m 61 but I feel more like I’m in my 40s; I guess that fits the pattern you are talking about. I get to hang around a bunch of younger people (WiAC, Harper Radio, etc.) on a regular basis and that helps keep me feeling younger than I actually am. A while back I heard a story about Clint Eastwood still working regularly beyond his 88th birthday. At a golf outing he was paired with Toby Keith and was asked “why do you keep doing this? Don’t you feel like you’ve earned the right to retire?” to which Eastwood said “Toby, you can’t let the old man in”.
I’m not a country nor a Toby Keith fan, but I’ve played that song on the Star Spotlight on WHCM. It’s a great concept, and I have to say (from my perspective) you are no where near letting the old lady in.
Keep doing what you are doing; I feel fortunate to have you in my circle.
“Don’t let the old man in” — I love that, Charlie. I’m going to look for that song. I agree that staying connected with people both older and younger than us is a good way to feel better as well as younger. You know what they say about the spice of life. Thanks for sharing your experience!
I think I am the same age as you and feel about the same age as you do. I have a hard time when I see people my age (such as at my HS reunion) and they look old to me. It scares me when I teach lawyers who were not even born when I started practicing law. I feel there is a fine balance between touting my “experience” and not wanting to discuss my age. An attorney I knew and respected seemed to have more and more and more to say the older he got (and I think the less relevant he felt). I try to pay close attention to how much I am talking to assure that I am not falling into the rut of “I’ve done this for so long, I know everything and I’m going to share it with you because I am sure I know more than you”.
Interesting point about the guy who talked more as he got older, Erica. Maybe he just had that much more to share? There is a stereotype though — the old man/woman in a rocking chair, telling long boring stories about the way things used to be. I like to think you and I have developed some self-awareness along with all that experience. That keeps us out of the rut.
I love your uplifting take on age! How old do I feel? Well, I’m 67 (68 in a few months) and I feel like I’m in my late forties – early fifties. I attribute that to 1) having children in my forties 2) marrying someone 16 years my junior and 3) my refusal to grow up …
which puts me in the 25-ish percent younger range which I attribute to 4) Denial.
You might have something there, Fred, about refusing to grow up. I have a friend who’s always said, “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.”
Catherine, the age I feel in my head definitely fits this trend. It shocks me when I think back to how “old” I thought my parents were at this age – because I’m just now starting to feel like a real adult. 🙂 I remember my grandmother telling me that she’d often get startled looking in the mirror, because in her mind, she felt like she was 20. (She was around 80 at the time.) Age is definitely an attitude. Staying physically active; continuing to pursue passions, hobbies, and learning; and finding ways to stay connected and contributing (through a career, charitable activities, or just helping your family) seem to be the secrets for staying young at heart and mind. I count myself lucky to have parents and chronologically older friends who have modeled this attitude and way of living.