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.