Once you hit a certain age, all birthdays — not just the ones that end in 5’s and 0’s — become opportunities for reflection. And that’s what I find myself doing today, on my 71st birthday. It’s a curiosity of aging that as we get older, we have more to look back on, but we also find ourselves looking forward with more intensity. And what’s on my mind this year is how we actually have more time than we often think we do to realize our dreams and build the lives we truly want.
That’s a truth that’s not always easy to see in a culture that treats aging like an unfortunate disease to be avoided at all costs. America is a young country in a hurry. And it’s often simply assumed that we have to do everything by the time we’re 30. There are endless lists of the high-achieving “20 under 20” or “30 Under 30.” I’m surprised we haven’t yet had “5 Under 5” (“Though still in pull-ups, this tech visionary is taking the toddler-VC crowd by storm…”).
But I was lucky enough to be raised in a much older country that reveres the wisdom that comes with age. And what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is how much we can gather steam as we gather years. That’s certainly been true in my case. I founded my first company when I was 55, and continued building it well into my 60s. I founded my second company when I was 66 — one year after the traditional age of retirement. And now, at 71, I’m leading a company that has just raised an $80 million round of Series C funding led by Kleiner Perkins and Owl Ventures. I work with many amazing “30 Under 30s” while doing the most meaningful work of my life! And with this new funding, we’re in a position like never before to accelerate our growth and impact and double down on our mission to end the stress and burnout epidemic.
Living a life of well-being and resilience and being able to continue building our dreams as we get older are deeply connected. When we take care of ourselves and take the time to unplug and recharge and find joy in the journey, we can prove F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong and create deeply fulfilling second, third and fourth acts for ourselves. Over the weekend, for example, just days before his own 71st birthday, Richard Branson found joy and made history in his journey to the edges of outer space.
In a recent MarketWatch piece, Jonathan Burton writes about the “gray revolution” of companies realizing the value older workers bring. And much of that is due to the revolution in how we think about health and well-being. As Burton writes, there might not be as much of a difference as we think between an “older worker” and an employee just starting their career: “Nowadays a 55-year-old employee, for example, could easily stay with an organization for another 25 years.” Given that — if you include mental health — 90% of healthcare problems are connected to our behaviors and the way we live and work, we do actually have a lot of control over whether we arrive at old age healthy. And as Linda Fried, director of Columbia University’s Aging Center, put it: “With health we unleash the potential for older adults to contribute to society.” This collective mindset shift is unlocking new possibilities for both individuals and companies. “We’ve never had this before,” Fried says. “We don’t yet appreciate what it could offer.”
We can even have major epiphanies later in life. At 56, less than two years after founding The Huffington Post, I collapsed from burnout and exhaustion. The changes I made to how I live and work in the year after that eventually led to founding Thrive Global.
The literal definition of “retire” is to withdraw, to retreat, to go into seclusion. But if we take care of ourselves, that’s hardly an apt description of aging. When we prioritize our well-being, these can be years not of retreat and withdrawal, but of expansion and engagement, whether personal, professional or both.
So let’s take away from ourselves the pressure of believing we must achieve it all at 30 or 40 or any age, for that matter, or all at once. And let’s also remember that when we take the time to unplug, recharge and find joy, wonder and gratitude in our daily lives — instead of burning ourselves out in pursuit of some imaginary deadline — we’ll be better able to realize our dreams and actually be present for them.
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