The Strategic Advantages of Getting Old(er)

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


My wife and I have had this good natured debate from time to time around old(er) people — including those close to us. Everyone has had experience with the older person who ‘loses their filter’ and from time to time says exactly what they are thinking, regardless of how inappropriate or downright rude it is. The common conclusion – no doubt frequently correct – is that this is the result of some cognitive deterioration brought on by aging.

Now, I certainly have zero clinical knowledge, and mean no disrespect to anyone who is suffering from this kind of illness or those caring for them. I just don’t think this diagnosis covers the entire waterfront. I’ve been heard to say to my wife: “That person isn’t losing it at all. He knew exactly what he was saying and why he was saying it. And he was being more honest and accurate than all those other numbskull politically correct boring people in the room. He just doesn’t give a damn any more, which is entirely different from not thinking clearly.”

Here’s what happens when you get older, and I know this part first hand. You realize that you are running out of time, which is the most important thing in the world. And so you decide that you are unwilling to waste any more of it. Not on people saying dishonest or dumb things, not on processes or meetings that accomplish nothing, and not at places where you just don’t want to be. And so, given this new sudden urgency in your life, you refuse to.

Now, my cognitive abilities may of course be materially waning, but one thing became very clear to me regarding my career when I turned sixty. I’ve been working over thirty years, and I have somewhere between five and ten left to accomplish anything meaningful. And I haven’t seen as much of the world as I’d like. And I need to ‘give back’ more than I have. And I need to have more fun. So I need to get way more disciplined.

Believe it or not, this is terrific. I am being much more ruthless about how I spend my time – what I’m doing and with whom I’m doing it. Not only am I not wasting my own time, I’m trying not to waste anyone else’s either – nobody wants to talk to someone who isn’t listening. And I’m certain that it’s working the other way as well, as there are definitely people who aren’t calling me anymore. Good for them.

And with any luck, now that I’m so old - and if I don’t screw it up — not only will I get much more done, hopefully I will make fewer compromises, be more courageous and stand up more effectively for what I believe. Maybe a less accommodating person, but instead a more effective one.

My only regret is that I didn’t reach this exact conclusion a few decades ago. It might have made a world of difference.

I should have gotten older when I was a whole lot younger.

Thanks for reading. (I have a really great story about late life accomplishment in my next blog.)