15 April 2019 By Victoria Tomlinson
I have never been interested in people’s ages. Until we started Next-Up. Now I am intrigued when someone says, ‘I am 57’ and I have to stop myself gasping – I had them at nearly 70; or the reverse of that, someone says they are late 60s and I thought they were a decade younger.
The question going through my mind is – what are they doing that is ageing them so much? Or making them seem so young.
And I promise, this is not about looks but attitudes – and a ‘something else’. We all watch people like Joanna Lumley, Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench who have something that sings out from inside them. It is ageless.
So, I have spent the last few months jotting down what makes someone seem ‘old’? This is the list I have come up with – from observing people everywhere: in my office: on station platforms; at networking events; and on TV – and how to avoid the problem. Do you agree? Would you add anything or disagree? Do share your thoughts!
A couple of years ago, we helped someone aged just 50 to set up Skype. It took my colleague nearly an hour to email how to do this and then set up a call and talk them through it. We all of us went – what? 50 is so young – this just came over as ‘old’. This is about mindset and being interested in tech changes around you. Try and keep up with today’s technologies – you can learn how to do almost anything on the internet – YouTube is a mine of information and ‘how to’. Use it.
This is a real passion of mine. If our generation wants to take on roles – non-executive directorships, trusteeships, consultancy, adviser or whatever – we have to do justice to those we are helping. And that means understanding where disruption could come from and having a view on technology in the wider picture. More on this here.
Some people seem to have a real lethargy about them. I think there are two reasons for this.
With some, they have taken on a gravitas mantle at work, the ‘elder’ who is thoughtful and has presence. It may work in a corporate (though I challenge this to some extent), but it can come over as ponderous and frankly old, once the corporate context is taken away.
The other reason is that so many people become worn out and drained – they are still working 24/7 with huge pressures and life is draining them. If this resonates with you, maybe it is time to get out/move on and create a life on your terms now? Being happy, laughing and smiling is much more youthful!
I do a lot of public speaking and while it is kind of people to take photos and share them on social media, it has been a shock to see how ageing a serious face is! I’ve noticed that particularly when I am on a panel I tend to concentrate, looking at the other speakers when they are talking – and I look really miserable. I’ve seen the same on video conference calls when others are talking.
So now I make an effort to smile – a lot! I did a BBC Breakfast television interview a year or so ago and was one of three business people at the Rug Factory. Throughout the interview I made sure I was smiling and did worry if it would look a bit cheesy – but surprisingly it didn’t.
I keep hearing women, in particular, talking about being invisible as they get older. They feel overlooked in meetings or at networking events.
I think this is down to how you go out and greet the room. If you walk into a room with a huge smile and are interested in everyone around you, people respond.
I was watching the wonderful Mary Berry the other day. She has a new TV series on quick cooking and is filmed on the back of a motorbike with a young Italian driving, in Rome, and cooking for the Navy – flirting outrageously with all the young sailors. They are clearly all having a ball and I don’t think anyone is thinking that Mary is 84 years old and ‘invisible’. You can create your own presence and others will respond, no matter your age.
Just look at these clips from her BBC series, Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking.
And that leads on to this next one. Don’t talk about yourself too much – no matter how much you have achieved. Be more interested in others around you. It feels young and energising.
I had a relative who had a lot of health problems but got into talking about them all day. There are only so many ‘poor yous’ that anyone can do and it gets to the point when you start avoiding the person if you can.
If you really need to talk about your health, do it with a partner, family member or close friend (but only a little bit!) and definitely don’t bring your health into meetings or a work environment. Even if others start, you don’t have to join in, however tempting!
One of the most youthful things I have noticed is to become knowledgeable or expert in something that others would see as the domain of young people. I wrote about this some time ago when someone said you can’t expect professionals over 50 to get into social media – what rubbish. I say it is youthful to surprise/shock people.
I interviewed Cynthia Pharr-Lee for Primewomen last year. Her strategy is to look at what skills are missing on boards and get qualifications in these. She has done a Harvard course in digital marketing and more recently, she noticed the growing issue of cybersecurity and a real lack of expertise to lead discussions on this at board level. Cynthia researched and signed up for the Cyber-Risk Oversight Program run by the National Association of Corporate Directors in partnership with Carnegie Mellon university. “It was a 30-hour online course, very credible and I learned a lot,” she says. “I can’t say I am an expert, but I now know the questions to ask around the board table and can oversee a strategic approach to the issue. It makes me distinctive as a non-executive director.”
I regularly hear people talking about experiencing ageism when applying for roles. I bet no-one who comes across Cynthia will think about age even for a second. She has a contemporary skill that is in great demand.
We all complain. But somehow it becomes a ‘grumpy old man’ or ‘old woman’ as we become older.
Being someone who always focuses on the positive, tends to take years off people.
Recently I have been trying to set up calls and meetings with various people and we are struggling to find mutual times. As people are saying what they can and can’t do, a number have said something like ‘I’m exhausted by 6pm and don’t go out in the week’ or ‘I don’t do meetings before 10.30am, I like to have a relaxing morning’.
As people create new lives in unretirement, it is great to get a work-life balance and there is no reason why you shouldn’t crash at 6pm – but I wouldn’t mention it. You don’t have to say why you can’t do a meeting, keep this bit to yourself.
Whenever I am in London, I try to walk to meetings – it is a great way to spot trends. An example was in January when everywhere there were offers of ‘Veganuary’ and ‘non-alcohol evenings’. It brought home just what a change there is in diet these days and I then start thinking about the impact on organisations I am working with.
And when I have meetings in a trendy workspace in London, I check out what everyone is wearing. I don’t want to be mutton dressed as lamb, but I do want to look relevant with the world today.
You don’t have to like or agree with trends, but you don’t want to be the person who says, ‘oh these ridiculous diets’ or feign complete ignorance.
This has to be one of the most ageing comments of all times?! Of course you didn’t do it like that in your day – whenever that was. The internet has only been around since 1983, Facebook is only 16 years old. I know, can you believe it! Don’t be nostalgic for the old days – were they really that good anyway? Anyone for spam fritters and doing the washing in a twin tub and mangle?!
One of the things everyone dreams of achieving is to get rid of emails. And a lot of people slow down their use of emails when they move into unretirement.
But the rest of the world is still going nineteen to the dozen with their emails, and having someone who only goes online every few days feels really out of touch.
If you are interested in what is changing around you and have a view on it, you will have interesting ‘chat’. One contact of mine emailed me after our coffee and said, ‘You are always challenging Tomlinson and I also get a new thought or idea whenever we meet.’ I loved that – it is part of my currency that makes people still want to meet me so you aren’t a ‘has-been’. But you need those interesting new ideas and thoughts to bring to your coffees and meetings.
I have been working with some wonderful women in the States, in their late 70s, who want help with what they do next. The absolute opposite of old peopleism?!
One was previously a top lawyer and she commented that she is well networked still with people from her profession aged 50+ but after our discussions she said she wants to get more in touch with young lawyers – in their 20s and 30s. I was delighted to hear this.
There is no doubt that young people keep us grounded, help us understand how the world is changing – from an enthusiastic perspective! – and this will trigger ideas and needs, to help all of us find purpose in unretirement. If you are on a board, go out to find young people to go on it or advise it. You will definitely be rewarded in so many ways – and it will give you a youthful air!
So, to sum up, if you want to appear youthful, be positive, smile a lot, be energetic, walk into a room beaming, keep up to date with technology, don’t tell people if you are tired or ill and keep learning new things!
Victoria Tomlinson is chief executive and founder of Next-Up. Next-Up supports employers with a range of services for directors, partners and employees to help them understand the impact of retirement on mental health and create a plan to use their skills and experience in new ways to ensure wellbeing. A key part of our role is to inspire people with ideas and contacts, beyond traditional expectations. A former director of EY, she is an international speaker on unretirement, personal branding and using LinkedIn strategically as well as on leadership and women on boards. She mentors chief executives and directors, start-up businesses and ex-offenders. Victoria is Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University and chaired an advisory board for University of Leeds.