Somebody recently asked when I plan to retire, and the question stopped me in my tracks. Yes, I’ve been getting letters from AARP, but I didn’t dream anyone else might think the “R” word could be in my future. I’m still entranced by my job, count my co-workers among my best friends and can barely imagine a life without work.
And that means I am like lots of other baby boomers—delusional and driven, with 63 percent of us feeling younger than we really are and 41 percent saying they would rather keep working than retire.
Still, energy, memory and all sorts of other things really do start to decline after 40, and many boomers—46 percent, to be exact—worry that they can’t compete with their younger colleagues. And as people hold onto their jobs even longer—68 is the new 65 when it comes to retirement age—it’s increasingly common for grandparents to work alongside kids fresh out of school. All your experience and wisdom won’t keep you from being sidelined if you come across as a dinosaur. Here—with the help of several boomer friends and colleagues—are some tips for staying on top.
· Exercise. If somebody told you about a miracle drug that could elevate your energy, prolong your life and make you happier for hours after you took it, you’d be scouring the black market to find it. I couldn’t maintain my workload or schedule without exercising at least 45 minutes four or five times a week, and I will give up personal lunches, dinners and fun to make it happen.
· On a similar note, one friend takes the stairs instead of the elevator and visits the person in the next office rather than sending an e-mail. It counts as exercise, and it sends a message about his vitality, too.
· As people age they look tired, and tired is a bad look at work. If your face shows the serious effects of more than half a century of gravity, consider a facelift, Botox or other cosmetic procedures. This applies to you, too, guys.
· But don’t try too hard. Nothing is going to make you look 30 again, and that includes tight shirts that show off your muffin-top, stiletto heels that you teeter in, cleavage that flaunts your age spots and bare, cafeteria-lady arms.
· Do not—repeat, do not—talk about what you did when you worked for a Fortune 500 company in New York. Lots of people move to Sarasota from major jobs. The smart ones know that what matters now is what they’re accomplishing here.
· If you stay around long enough, you’re going to have new bosses and maybe even new owners. Even if it is true, never tell them, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”
· Everyone our age forgets a shocking number of things. Do not bring meetings to an agonizing halt while you try to recall a name and complain that you can’t remember anything anymore. No one in corporate history has ever won respect or a promotion this way. You can’t use my strategy—which is to ask executive editor Kay Kipling, who remembers every detail in the universe—but you can try to conceal your mental lapse and Google the elusive fact after the meeting.
· From a car-savvy colleague: Don’t buy a Buick.
· In office conversations, avoid the three “M’s”: Metamucil, menopause, and the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
· When you walk into a darkened room full of 20-somethings bent over their computers, don’t switch on the light. This is hard for me, but I’ve learned that, like vampires, they do their best work in the dark.
· When you get out of a chair, do it without groaning aloud. Also, get to crowded meetings early so you can grab a seat at the table before suffering the humiliation of having a young person get up and offer you his.
· Don’t over-share. It is not necessary or constructive to announce that you fall asleep at 9:30, dread driving at night and had four doctor’s appointments in the last three weeks.
· When it comes to tech, just do it. “I never say I can’t learn new technology,” a 60-something CEO told me. “I assume I can, and I do.” And while you’re at it, get on Facebook, check out YouTube and follow some folks on Twitter. It’s not only fun; understanding social media has become an essential business skill.
· Deliver the goods. Nothing above will help if you’re not still passionately producing first-rate work.