Are the best years of your professional life ahead of you or behind you?
Regardless of how old you are, today your professional life expiration date is one day closer – “best if used by”. You may set the date, or someone may set it for you. In either case, the simple fact is we all grow older at work.
So how do we age gracefully – to become the leader we should have been?
In our personal lives we are regularly reminded of getting older. A few new aches and pains, turning up the volume, and clothing sizes with higher numbers or starting with X. While at work our physical changes may be noticed, our value to the organization comes from within – what we do.
How do we stay sharp and effectively manage inevitable, gradual decline?
First the good news – aging well at work can be very fulfilling. A sense of fulfillment comes from respected expertise, opportunities to mentor others, and long-term relationships. The institutional memory you possess is critical for the organization, your perspective is broad and valued, and you can share lessons learned from past mistakes. This is not theory – this is my experience aging in an organization.
There are tradeoffs, and this took me awhile to get right. Graceful leaders understand the need to redefine career success as they age, as promotions and high-profile assignments frequently move to others. They refocus their mindset off self to the success of others – a great need in the workplace today.
The dark side of aging at work is the fear of being expendable. Reorganizations and new bosses can fuel this fear as we worry if our experiences are perceived as the way we used to do things, old school, or irrelevant. We may sense a negative bias to aging, despite the legal safeguards in place, believing others see us as being unable or unwilling to change. This fear can be paralyzing, causing us to switch to survival mode, and we stop growing.
By the way, if you are a “younger” person you may wonder how this message applies to you. Stay with me – becoming expendable can begin at any age. A twenty-five-year old professional resistant to change or not maintaining their skillset can find themselves on the outside looking in. On the other hand, older leaders who remain engaged may find their value is stronger than ever.
Three keys to aging gracefully:
Stay current in your profession and spend more time understanding how your work connects to other areas of the organization. You probably built your career on technical expertise, how things are done, and now others will expect you to understand the why. This perspective will make you uniquely qualified to see and help resolve pain points of your organization – an example of true value.
Widen Your Horizon
As we age at work we can get very comfortable with our structured set of associations, people we work with every day and often see as family. Now is the time to embrace the perspectives of strangers. Refresh your network to embrace differences in age, gender, ethnicity, and point of view. New associations lead to knowledge and allies for execution – a pathway to relevance.
Your professional life has been a series of well-deserved achievements, and primarily within your profession. Aging research confirms volunteering outside your traditional career path can be a very fulfilling way to share the leadership skills you have built along the way. Opening yourself to a worthy cause, and allowing others to lead, is grace in action. Leaders need followers.
Aging is guaranteed in life – grace requires us to act intentionally. The real question is not what your age is – what can you do? Commit to being relevant, widening your horizon, and embracing the spirit of volunteering. The other side of your commitment are people who need you today more than ever – it is never too late to become the leader you could have been.
Have a great week!