I have noticed that when I’m with younger people they seem to treat me as more or less equal. It opens a possibility of a conversation, a moment in which I can learn from the other person. I have also noticed that on rare occasions, I pull out the wisdom/gravitas card — usually when I am feeling a bit scared. I use it as a defense, and not a very good one at that. The default being ‘I know better because I am older.’ Cue the paralyzing boredom that creeps over their faces. When I stay curious, I open myself up to connection.
The key to a good life
We know from our research that curiosity is the single key factor to having a good life at our age, and at any age. If one combines curiosity with drive, well, then almost anything is possible. It’s also the people having the most fun seem to the one’s that are most curious.
I don’t feel particularly wise these days. True, I understand some things better than other people who have not worked in my field. But now, after several years at the top of a profession, I have a new venture, AGEIST. Every day I feel like a beginner, at an age when my ego would prefer to feel like an expert. It’s constantly humbling, but endlessly enriching.
Some of the very smartest people, of any age, that I know are perennially curious — they know they don’t know all that much. They don’t demand respect, they request a conversation. They very much want to know about the people and the world around them, and go about it in a lifelong process of continual learning.
One of the biggest boogie men we need to be careful of is the false belief that we know it all, or that we know enough so as to warrant no further investigation. This is the road to isolation, poor health and impoverishing career alternatives.
We call this fossilization: the closing of the mind to new information. Look around — there are examples in all age groups; I have met some very closed-minded 20-somethings. People are, of course, entitled to be as open or closed as they want. After all, being open and curious requires a certain amount of courage, as one will be confronted with contradictory people and information. It is stressful in a certain way, however all growth involves stress.
Hard is not impossible
As one gets older, it’s easier to make excuses about prior knowledge being superior. The consequences are great. Curiosity, and the desire to connect to new people and new information is absolutely essential, and simultaneously harder as we age.
How can we improve?
How can we improve, and guard against the inner fear-based editor that tells us we must not explore?
–Meditate. I have been doing it daily for 6 years and it has completely changed how I interact with people. By slowing down the internal judgement racket, I find myself being more present and less defensive.
-Practice saying hello and smiling. So simple, but saying hello to strangers builds the muscle of taking in new people and information with less judgment and fear. I have yet to be attacked by anyone I smile and say hi to.
-Say YES! When asked to do something — see a play, go somewhere new — just say yes. Give pause to the analysis around ‘Is this going to be totally 100% comfortable?’ — it’s not about that. Growth is not about being in total comfort, it’s about being able to take in new and challenging information, which is also where the fun stuff is.