Exploding the Myths About Aging

Homophobia, sexism, racism – there have been huge advances in addressing attitudes to various groups over the last few years.  But there is one ‘ism’ that still seems to be fair game in the public arena – yes, it’s ageism.

With so many baby boomers now reaching that ‘certain age’ it’s time to change the public perception and tear down the old stereotypes around aging.  Why?  Because we need to feel better about aging in order to age better, says writer and activist Carl Honoré, author of the critically acclaimed book ‘Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives’. 

Carl believes we need to stop worshipping youth and start embracing aging as an adventure – We embraced the cult of youth in the 60s – we can choose to un-embrace it now.”  He also debunks some of the key myths around age – all of which turn out to be factually incorrect!

Stereotype one – later life is depressing
A quick check of the latest research on the happiness curve blows this one out of the water.  People are at their saddest in their 40s, from here their levels of happiness and satisfaction grow.  The happiness curve shows those with the highest levels of happiness and satisfaction are over 55.  The idea that things get worse as you get older is, as Carl says, “weapons grade nonsense!”

Stereotype two – creativity belongs to the young
Human history is packed with examples of people doing wonderfully creative things later in life, and no more so than now.  A quick internet search reveals a host of current trailblazers and changemakers who came into their own later in life – from artists and musicians to physicists and business leaders. 

As Maya Angelo (a poet, singer and activist who was a force to be reckoned with well into her eighties) says ‘You can’t use up your creativity – the more you use the more you have’.

Some forms of creativity depend on two things generally only available to older people – time and experience.

Stereotype three – older people are less productive and less useful in the workplace
Wrong again!  Our social skills usually improve as we age, and our cumulative experience makes us better at seeing the big picture.  As Carl says, in the workplace experience built up over the years can be a ‘superpower’!

No wonder then that organisations with suggestion boxes report that the majority of the good ideas come from older staff, and the best ideas are from the over 55s.  A study of companies in the US also concluded that founders are more likely to succeed in middle age or beyond.

Stereotype four – older people can’t learn new things
Our vocabulary, general knowledge and expertise can go on expanding throughout our lives, and a grasp of how the world works only fully ripens over 50.  So even if it takes older people a little longer to master new things, that’s more than offset by their other acquired skills.

Did you know that the saying ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ isn’t even true of dogs?!

So that’s a summary of the four biggest stereotypes around aging. 
They are:

  • All bleak
  • All widespread
  • And (fortunately) all wrong!

For more, watch Carl’s Ted Talk ‘Why we should embrace aging as an adventure’

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