Originally published on LinkedIn on May 1, 2021
When I approached my 30th birthday my dad took me aside and offered some friendly fatherly advice: “Look, once you hit 30 you’re on the slide”. He wasn’t wrong about much, but I’d like to think this was an exception - not least since he had me when he was 46 (coincidentally, my age today - that’s middle age in other people!). His words rebound now as I approach another milestone: 10 years at Manulife. At this age and after this time - the longest I’ve worked anywhere - could it be that my dad’s words weren't wrong, just ahead of their time?
I don’t mind admitting that, between a draining day at the office and trying to keep up with two insatiably curious children at home, the engine does sometimes seem like it’s running on fumes. Yet, at the same time I can’t help feel that, age and experience notwithstanding, I’m only just getting started. I’m lifted in part by the cases of masters who achieved some of their best work later in life:
Laura Ingalls Wilder, famous for writing the children’s series Little House on the Prairie, wrote her first book at the age of 64. Frank McCourt wrote his first book, the Pulitzer-prize winning Angela’s Ashes, when he was 66.
Henri Matisse's self-described masterpiece, the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence was in an art form he’d never before attempted. It took him four years, and he completed it at the age of 81.
Bob Dylan achieved his first ever no.1 hit single in 2020 with his new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, described by Rolling Stone as “an absolute classic”. He was 79.
And there’s been a long-term trend of Nobel laureates getting older, from an average age of 50-something in the 1950s to over 70 today.
As impressive as are those examples, I take even more inspiration from cases closer to home. After arthritis made driving too painful for my dad, my mum took up the wheel, starting lessons and gaining her licence at the age of 57. Not to be outdone my dad, a former Irish champion, dusted off his weightlifting singlet and returned to competition in his 70s. (At the same time, after a break of 60 years, he also went back to school).
Meanwhile, at work I am regularly stunned by the talent of those coming up. Since when did the young get so good? I often find myself amused how they can look to me, Head of Comms Asia, as any kind of authority. Don’t they know, I’m still just a keen amateur, working it out myself? They're the ones who inspire me!
So what keeps a person staving off 'the slide' and instead growing healthily with the years? From the examples I draw on the most, I believe a key element is the simple willingness to try something new, to be always open to experiment, and beware retreading the winning, well-worn paths of old.
At our recent annual leadership conference, our CEO looked back at the company’s performance over recent years and hailed our successes, but closed with the rallying cry, “The best is yet to be!” It was a simple and powerful message, and certainly resonated with me. When I consider the masters, the example of my parents, the talent in my team and, above all, the everyday miracles of childhood, I can’t help but agree.