Why Many Baby Boomers Don’t Feel or Act “Our Age”

When an aging Baby Boomer sees himself (or herself) in the mirror, who does he see?  The aging worker…or the youthful contributor?

A series of photographs by Tom Hussey, an award-winning lifestyle advertising photographer, vividly captures what is surely going through the minds of many Baby Boomers and the older Veteran generation. It sure reflects how I feel. Why else would this 65 year-old Boomer be called “the Gen Y in the Baby Boomer body.”

The idea for these photos first struck when Hussey was talking to a WWII veteran named Gardner. On the cusp of his 80th birthday, Gardner opined that he still felt like a young man.

In speaking with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients, and even complete strangers, the perception and context of aging is changing. Many Boomers like myself just don’t feel “our age.”  We look back at how we viewed 60 year-olds when we were kids and even young adults. But many of our classmates and peers seem to look, feel, and act so much older than us.

The paradox of age doesn’t stop at 60.

We recently celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday with a family reunion and party.  That’s nothing special these days other than my mother looks, feels, and acts younger than nearly all her peers. In fact she runs circles around most people 20, 30 and even 40 years youngers – evidenced by her recent 3 week cruise and tour to Europe and Scandanvia. Her much younger travel companions barely kept up…and in fact, passed on several sidetrips because they were too tired.

But at the party, we had shocking revelation.  One of my cousin’s young daughters asked to “toast” my mother with a song.  About 10 years old, she introduced her toast saying that she selected the tune because there were so many “elderly” people in the room.  She got a big laugh… and a few sighs. Someone asked her how old was elderly: “Over 30,” she said!!! That of course, put everyone under 50 in their place.

Hussey’s photos intended to capture how many older people see themselves. Of course, many older people see “elderly” people looking back. But many of us see a much younger image looking back.

But what if his intention was reversed?  What if the reflection in the mirror is looking back and seeing a much older image living his live?  You, of course, know someone who is young but looks, feels, and acts old.  I’m not talking maturity here. I’m talking about a young body and old mind and lifestyle.

These perceptions (or should I say misperceptions and stereotypes) about age are causing major rifts and challenges in the workplace and society.  You have the Boomers and older seeing youth looking back while young adults might be seeing elderly people, hanging on for dear life to their jobs and vitality.

In reality, it is all true.  Boomers are getting older..and many act every bit their age.  Others act more like young people than even some Millennials and Generation X.  How we see ourselves and how others see us has always been a challenge.  But with four and soon to be five generations working side-by-side for the first time in history. understanding how age impacts productivity and influences lifestyle is challenging everyone to look beyond the numbers and see each individual for his and her real value.

 


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Ira S Wolfe