A little over a week ago professional golfer Phil Mickelson made history when he became the oldest person to win a major golf tournament. Apparently, Mickelson is ancient – he’s a whopping 50 years old! This old guy clearly stunned the sports world as one reporter remarked, “Mickelson clearly has some fuel left in his tank!”
Obviously an amazing feat for a person with one foot in the grave! This level of wonderment over Mickelson’s accomplishment at 50 years old reminds me of the first time I received a solicitation from AARP. I had turned 50. 50 is old?! It continues to fascinate me that after decades of individuals living well into their 80’s we consider 50 a senior citizen – the math alone just doesn’t line up. Given the average current life expectancy of 72.9, close to one third of a person’s life will be spent as a senior citizen. And now consider this fact: the number of people 50 years and older is larger than it has ever been, and this demographic is growing.
The reality is by focusing on growing older as a sign of diminishing capacity to make a contribution, we overlook a significant portion of the population who are very capable and competent. Even more, their wisdom is a reflection of significant life experience. The challenge is to see beyond the popular culture worldview that lives in an outdated framework, “Age 50? You’ve reached your ‘use by’ date.”
Beyond the obvious criticism of ageism, this outdated frame functions to sideline a significant number of highly gifted people who, in their youth, were invisible because of racism and/or sexism. As society takes off our blinders to the gifts of others who look different than us, we are benefitting from their talent and experience. The travesty is realizing how we might have benefitted from these individuals if we had been able to recognize and celebrate their gifts long before today.
I’m sure many of us are glad Mickelson didn’t listen to criticisms that he is too old. Who else can we encourage, no matter their age, by saying, “Keep going; we need you and your gifts!”