Monday, May 20, 2013

How to Win The Productive Aging Award.

A few weeks ago I finally had to admit defeat and buy a pair of reading glasses. I did not plan to celebrate this milestone, thinking of it as the beginning of my physical demise. Then I recalled my grandmother's remarkable life.

My late grandmother of tea-making fame started to lose her hearing at the age of 28. She lived in the UK and had just given birth to my mother at the beginning of WWII. After The War, my grandfather travelled for 6 months of the year trading in precious watch parts and my grandmother was essentially a single parent for much of my mother's childhood. She dealt with her hearing problems by learning to lipread and donning hearing aids without a second thought...........

When my grandfather died, my grandmother was in her late 50s and although she missed him greatly, this period marked a whole new phase of her life. Rather than settling down to grow old, she qualified as a lipreading teacher and taught lipreading well into her seventies. Her passion for travel throughout this time never wavered and she travelled to the USA, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, all places she had actually been before!!

In her late eighties she learned to word process and wrote memoirs on a computer. I am so
My grandma in our house in the USA,aged 91
grateful to have copies. Most remarkably, despite suffering from  terrible arthritis she visited us in Hong Kong when she was 89 and then came to see us in DC when she was 91.

My grandmother was an example to me for how to live the WHOLE of your life and I was reminded of her on Sunday night at The Jewish Council For The Aging's (JCA) 20th anniversary dinner. 

At the dinner they give an award called The Productive Aging Award. For this award The JCA

"...annually selects an outstanding individual or couple who demonstrates that ability knows no age."

Last night they honored Doris Kearns Goodwin presidential historian (70)  and her husband Richard Goodwin (81) famed for his years as speech writer and presidential advisor for John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

The movie Lincoln is based in part on Doris's book Team of Rivals and she has won The Pulitzer prize in History for her book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

As part of the evening's entertainment, Doris interviewed her husband and facilitated him telling remarkable stories about his years in The White House and the very famous lines he wrote for the Presidents he served under. But what was most inspiring was their wonderful repartee, obvious great love and admiration for each other and their sharp intellect and knowledge that they are still honing to this day. Richard wrote a play just three years ago that has been on the London and Boston Stage and Doris appears regularly on prime time television. It seems to me this phase of their life is just beginning and they have no intention of slowing down.

In this 21st Century 'aging' has taken on new meaning. Life expectancy has increased in the western world and more and more people are living longer and more productive lives. The strain on our health systems and personal savings for retirement has multiplied with longevity, but so has the opportunity for productive aging.

Just a generation or two ago, most people qualified in one profession, found a job and stayed in it until retirement. Today the US Department of Labor has estimated that by the time today's students reach 38 they will have had at least 10-14 jobs and more than one career. For the teens and 20 somethings this fast paced changing landscape is exciting, motivating and normal. For us 40, fifty, sixty somethings  and beyond, it is a chance to re invent ourselves with the knowledge that hopefully we have many productive years ahead of us.

 All around me, friends are moving countries, beginning new jobs or second or third careers, running marathons, learning to Zumba and blogging, whilst sending their kids to college, taking care of their parents, making weddings for their children and welcoming their first grandchildren or even great grandchildren.

A friend of mine said to me today, "At 51 life is just beginning. I love these years!" and I find these words comforting and inspiring. 

With all this in mind, reading glasses seem to be a great lens through which to view new and exciting opportunities and not just a tell tale sign that I have reached "that-age."

What are you doing now that you never dreamed possible 10 or 20 years ago? How have you re invented yourself? How has your aging experience differed from your parents or grandparents? 

Leave me a comment and I promise to read it as soon as I put my reading glasses on!


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  1. Getting old is much better than the alternative!

    1. Very true and now with that come opportunities not available to generations before us.

      We don't know what's round the corner( believe me, I know) but technology, change in attitudes towards getting older and the speed at which the concept of "the work place" is changing means we can wear our reading glasses with the notion that we have lots of opportunities to grasp and to look forward to....

  2. Another insightful post!

  3. Thanks Lynn! You definitely know how to seize the day and live life fully!

  4. Gilly
    >> Another great read! Seems like where I am right now.
    >> My new thing is the biking training for Israel ride. Hope I can make it through all the aches and pains!!
    >> Also trying to do new things with my time/career not sure where that will lead.
    >> Jill M

  5. Thanks Jill. Being open to the change is the first step don't you think?