Aging v. Agelessness: AARP Campaign Helps Bridge Generation Gaps

With millennial Tomislav Simpovic at Eleven, an accelerator venture and seed fund headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria
"The trick is growing up without growing old."

~ Casey Stengel

Are you growing up without growing old, living in the strata of humanity that collaborates and builds rather than divides and declines?

AARP's new video campaign breaks some aging stereotypes by showing millennials what positive aging looks like. It also provides worthy content for my latest musings on life, happiness and social well being.

I learned about AARP's campaign following an exercise class last week. Moving through a one hour core class, I wondered whether I could have endured the fitness challenge during my 20's or 30's. Realizing I'd gained inner strength during midlife, I remarked about it later to a fellow classmate.

She smiled. Had I heard about AARP's Disrupt Aging campaign?

"There's a video where a millennial is paired with a 50-something woman," she told me. "The young guy tries, but can't stay atop a balance beam like we do in pilates. It wasn't a matter of age; he just hadn't yet developed his core."

Years ago, I hadn't developed my core muscles either. Physical exhaustion and lack of mental fortitude would have caused me to fold in a similar class back then.

Later that night, I went home to view the AARP video and caught a bit of purposeful producing. The clip starts out with naive millennials being asked to share preconceived notions about aging. Then, each millennial is paired with a savvy and vigorous counterpart to demonstrate how elders can do just about anything those of a younger generation can do.

The video manages to bust several myths about aging. Better, it reveals how bonds are created when generations can learn from - and appreciate - each other's talents and abilities.

Perhaps most importantly, the video provided me with a worthy touchpoint. We can find ways to unite rather than divide and we can bridge gaps and work together in fun and innovative ways.


Laugh-In's Old Maid Meets Today's Agelessness

Much has changed over the years in America's perception about aging.

Many of us remember the hilarious spinster Gladys Ormphby played by Ruth Buzzi on the 1960's Laugh-In TV show. Fending off the advances of a lecherous old man, Buzzi personified the relic.

Clad in drab brown attire with a bun hairdo and visible hairnet that should have scared anyone away, Buzzi represented the then stereotypical woman over 50. Her dowdy appearance and rusty mannerisms reminded that generation that life over 50 signaled social insignificance and physical decline.

But is that still the case today? Do we automatically age with the calendar, or does something keep us learning, growing and contributing to society well into our later years?

AARP would suggest that Buzzi's old maid on Laugh-In who spent afternoons on a park bench, chewing on her gums, is a phantom of the past. But for me, accepting the stereotype of a former TV character or buying into the emergence of a hip new AARP ad campaign centering on physical ability doesn't speak sufficiently to aging.


A Secret Behind Agelessness

There's a deeper element at play, one that helps us feel connected to others regardless of age.

True, we can try fending off aging through a new physical accomplishment, business success or advanced academic degree. We can also try to avoid aging by wearing trendy clothes, adopting popular phrases or displaying our social prowess via Facebook or Instagram. But there's more to agelessness.

Embracing change, extending ourselves beyond old norms and taking advantage of new avenues for personal development may reveal the outworking of an inner thought life that says, "I'm still growing."

Much of aging is found in our mind, where we store personal beliefs and ideas about growing old. Whether conscious of it or not, we decide internally when our life will start to stop.

A septuagenarian remarks in the AARP video, "When people start stopping, that's when they start getting old," and he's right.

Some of us start stopping early in life, and age needn't be a factor. We can start stopping following an embarrassment while in high school. We can permanently pause following a failure in our twenties. And we can suddenly succumb following an unexpected social, physical or financial curve ball that hits us at midlife.

Whatever the reason, there are moments when we internally choose to stop living and growing. Surrendering to fear or giving up on hope, we begin to see our lives on the decline and aging follows. We "start stopping" along life's path by passing up fresh opportunities or declining invitations to forge new horizons.


Millennial and Mid Lifer Collaboration

The photo above provides a timely example of cross-generational collaboration and pursuing the curiosity and growth open to us all in life. It also captures the good will that emerges when we extend ourselves beyond stereotypical age boundaries.

Traveling through Bulgaria several months ago, I visited a site for start-ups called Eleven and was greeted by a millennial named Tomislav Simpovic. Decades my junior and one of the emerging innovators in residence, he was happy to offer me a tour, share insights on his own digital platform and explain how the venue was helping fuel new businesses in southeastern Europe and beyond.

In a fun turn of events, Tomislav emailed me this week to advise that he and his team are reshaping their digital news publishing platform designed for hyper-local communities. He was looking for my feedback and asking for some possible help with connections. Would I consider getting together with him on a Skype call?

Of course! I was thrilled to reciprocate, offering my support and expertise to aid him in his venture.


Your Ageless Life

Whether you're a millennial, mid lifer or more advanced in years, life is calling and people of every age can glean something from you. You can both give and gain.

Regardless of what the calendar calculates, you are counted among the living and welcomed among the ageless. I invite you to convert your notions about stopping and start sharing your talents with those around you today.

Turn your mind toward agelessness and start lighting the world in your own happy way!


Maura Sweeney is an International Speaker on Influence, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence