We’re all aware that each generation tends to live longer than the ones before, and we might have noticed also that each generation looks and acts younger at a particular age than previous generations at that same age.
Yet our mindset about what it means to be 30, 40, 50, 60, and beyond tends to remain the same. Although we all tend to see ourselves as 15 years younger than we are, as a society, we still see people in general as over the hill past 40. At 50 and beyond, people are seen as increasingly irrelevant, out of step, invisible, elderly, even useless. It doesn’t matter that, as Seth Godin (“Fifty is the new thirty”) has pointed out, “fifty year olds are living, acting and looking more like thirty year olds every day.”
But this mindset is changing dramatically. The boomer generation is redefining everything—from careers to entrepreneurship to what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be post-50. Now the generation that originated the idea of not trusting anyone over 30 is far beyond 30. This attitude still exists among millennials, but probably not for much longer.
The Kauffman Foundation discovered that the most successful startups are those founded and run by people over 55. More and more people post-50 are, by necessity or design, choosing flexible career arrangements, consulting, and entrepreneurship, reinventing retirement or abandoning the idea altogether.
As we choose work that is more meaningful, and develop the habit of approaching it in continuously innovative ways, “retirement” ceases to have any meaning. We don’t retire from being leaders, innovators, visionaries. We simply move on to what’s next for us and continue to adapt to our changing circumstances, just as women (and more and more men) do when they start families. The new way of working has nothing to do with age—beyond making it irrelevant.
This generation is also transforming the marketplace. Post-50 women in particular have more financial clout than ever, controlling three-fourths of U.S. wealth and making 95% of the purchase decisions in their households. Marketers, businesses, and organizations that are still youth centered are missing an enormous opportunity.
None of us can afford to ignore this market. Nor can we stereotype the post-50 generation based on generations before. They have different tastes, values, lifestyles, and goals, and they need to be marketed to as people who see a future full of new adventures, new life and work paths, and new opportunities for making a difference while making a living—just as 30-year-olds see their future.
The key difference, however, is that the inner psyche and development of the post-50 crowd does coincide with age. So a 50-year-old who looks and acts like a 30-year-old also has the earned wisdom and experience of her full 50 years.
Recognizing that 50 is the new 30, 60 the new 40, 70 the new 50, and so on, is not about vanity or denying that we all are aging. It simply means that we are taking one more step to bust another societal stereotype that holds us all back—just as we needed to combat sexism and misogyny and racism to remove the self-imposed limitations that prevent us all from reaching our full potential as humans, as visionaries, as people with the power to transform the world like never before. Who we are inside is ageless.
We are more than our gender, more than the color of our skin, and more than just a number. Don’t act your age. Act your potential.
Image credit: Photograph by Maira Kouvara.