Recently, I was part of a 3 day silent meditation retreat in Mont Soleil in Switzerland. At the end of the course, I got into a conversation with my roommates who were also 40+, just like me. I found a stark contrast in their attitudes to life and it also explained why the world is witnessing populism, protectionism and white supremacy movements over the last few years. I took a few powerful lessons and I intend to share these lessons for all the 40+ out there.

My first roommate was from Romania. He held several director level roles in human resources management in leading multinationals and his last role was as HR Director of a top global software company’s Turkey office. The coup in 2017 forced him to move out of Turkey and within a span of 3–4 months, he was able to reorganize his family — Put his elder son in US, younger son in an expensive private school in Switzerland and started his own HR consulting firm in Geneva — he is back to business without any complaints. He is even looking for a job to augment his income to support the USD120,000 tuition expenses that he needs to spend for his kids annually. It was a refreshing positive story of how this 40+ quickly managed to come out of a situation what others would call as crisis.

I entered into a conversation in the train back to Geneva with my aloof second roommate.He works for a leading NGO in Geneva and his wife works for a leading international organization. He has a 4 year old son. He was complaining about how the new technologies is cusing mindset shifts in organizations and how people like him who are 40+ are slowly mvoed out of their jobs by younger staff who are from other countries. He felt that this situation would get worse for his son’s generation and that it might be better for him to start thinking about how to lead a simple life in a mountain. This would enable his son to minimize his expectations about life and run a simple life making sausages or cheese. He was also worried about the increasing influx of immigrants which was causing environmental damage caused by new constructions and limited opportunities for local people. After a while, I was also feeling nervous and less confident because of his extremely pessimistic attitude towards life.

Last week, I was in San Francisco after 17 long years. At the immigration counter, 6/8 officers were of Chinese origin. Almost 8/10 people that I encountered in San francisco and in the bay area were either Chinese or Indians. After completing my official work, I went and stayed with a couple of my classmates in the Pleasanton area in East Bay. I went with them for a couple of shopping mails and a few restaurants. It was completely dominated by Chinese and Indians. At some point, I was confused whether this was US or Singapore. I could clearly see the socio economic landscape altering and the fears raised by my second roommate from the meditation course had become true in that world.The locals were replaced and move in from the coast by the immigrants. Unlike Switzerland, US is a free market and in almost every job from a barber shop to airport mechanic to the high paying engineering jobs, the immigrants were clearly dominating the game.

It is very easy for governments to say that people need to be upskilled or reskilled but for a 40+, the biggest challenge is that their strengths end up becoming a weakness, be it experience or skills. With kids education, house mortgage and so many other commitments, many 40+ are increasingly feeling insecure about their ability to learn new things and succeed while also facing the increasing competition from younger generations and immigrants. Everyone wants to ‘settle’ in life, especially when you are 40 but the world is changing at such a fast pace that ‘settling’ is the last word a professional needs to have in their dictionary.

You may be asking ‘Wait. Wait. They have stiff competition from youngsters and immigrants. Their lifestyle is threatened. Their employers are not too keen on them. It is hard for them to learn something new especially after spending so many years acquiring skills. What else can they do? Is this even possible? Has anyone done it?’.

Yes. It is possible.

A NYTimes article ‘Why Innovators get better with age’ breaks several myths. The most common image of an innovator is that of a kid developing a great idea in a garage, a dorm room or a makeshift office. This is the story of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple. Last week, Yahoo announced that it had bought a news-reading app developed by Nick D’Aloisio, who is all of 17.

In reality, though, these examples are the exception and not the rule. Consider this: The directors of the five top-grossing films of 2012 are all in their 40s or 50s. And two of the biggest-selling authors of fiction for 2012 — Suzanne Collins and E. L. James — are around 50.

According to research, the age of eventual Nobel Prize winners when making a discovery, and of inventors when making a significant breakthrough, averaged around 38 in 2000, an increase of about six years since 1900.

I can now hear you whispering ‘I don’t want to be an entrepreneur. I dont want to win Nobel prize. I am not an inventor or an innovator. I want to work in a company. I HEAR THAT but you could still be entrepreneurial at the work place instead of being an entrepreneur.Instead of waiting for your manager to give you decisions, you can become entrepreneurial and deliver things on your own. You could innovate on how things can be better at the workplace and you can deliver work in less time becasue of how you do things innovatively even though you are not an innovator. Most importantly, you need to shed your ego, accept the reality and work in a way that you are a sounding board to your boss, you are a mentor to your junior colleagues etc. You can be humble and your humility will help your team build bridges in places where there were ego clashes. You can also help your colleagues deal with relationship problems both at the work palce and in their personal sphere. You can learn new techniques like meditation or a dance, that will help you overcome your conditioning and to stay fresh in the mind.

There are many people who have done it before including Whitney Johnson who wrote ‘Disrupting myself’, James Altucher who is one of the most popular bloggers in the world became a success when he was 48. Sanjay Manjrekar didnt shine as an Indian cricket player but went on to become one of the famous commentators of the game. There are countless examples at workplaces to provide inspiration to us on how to age with grace while harmonizing the work expectations and family expectations.

Just like every other stage in life, life will again present an interesting cross road — to choose a path of love or a path of hate. Choose the path of love and pursue it diligently and passionately. You can become an innovator, inventor, entrepreneur, writer or whatever you want to become. It is possible.

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