A Medium writer wants to know

My Medium peep and seriously powerful woman Margaret Manning posed that question to me recently, in a request to explore a blog post idea about being relevant. For the last three plus weeks or so I’ve been out in the middle of gorgeous Nowhere here in Africa, and when I finally got to wifi, she had decided to fire the request to a blogger who had more ability to respond in a timely manner.

However. This is an important topic, and while I might have missed that deadline, I want to respond to the important question here.

In popular media, unless you and I are a Helen Mirren or Jane Fonda or Jane Goodall or someone else with a Very High Profile, are you and I relevant after sixty?

I might suggest that it depends.

First, if we succumb to the insanity of believing that we are only relevant on the basis of the beauty of the skin we are in, then our relevancy plummets. Okay, we think, I’ve got wrinkles, my teeth come out at night (my hand is up) I am past reproductive age, I’ve put on weight, that weight has wandered to the most inconvenient places, tight dresses don’t look so great on me any more….the list is endless.

Focus on this and you die a million deaths before you’re planted. And all that time you’re focusing on what (to me) is largely irrelevant, which is that you and I are NOT young any more, you will spend your treasure chasing what you no longer have, never will have again, and which, in some genuinely unfortunate cases, can make you look wildly foolish along the way.

If I may, I might suggest something else again. I mentioned Margaret because for those of you who are over sixty, you might want to go to her website Sixty and Me.

At this point, I suspect that Sixty and Me’s membership is a whole lot more than half a million. Several things here: Margaret recently turned seventy. She threw her heart and soul behind this project, and as a result, those of us who write for her (and yes I am a featured writer, and no, I do not get paid for writing for Sixty and Me, but I would strongly encourage those who have something of value to say to this market to contact Margaret) provide those half-million-plus women with everything from personal stories to travel advice to pieces on how to stay happy and engaged as we march into the final, and I argue the best, years of our lives.

Suffice it to say that Margaret manages to stay relevant. She regales her readers with videos, interviews with powerful women, and continually searches for writers who have something very important to say to those of us who struggle with our identities after a key milestone.

The article that Margaret asked me to review was in Inc. Magazine, and it listed the following attributes for being relevant:

  • Be authentic — speak the truth
  • Achieve mastery — grow your talents — be great at anything!
  • Be empathetic
  • Take more action

I just spent three days researching the work of Karen Valenti, who at 47 took what is effectively a volunteer job running the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project here in Moshi, Tanzania. She’d spent time in the Peace Corps, so she was used to privation. She left Denver, landed here and has been here for almost sixteen years. KPAP has grown, expanded and flourished under her intense and passionate management. Various Tanzanian companies have tried hard to get her removed and then kicked out simply because her efforts have changed the conversation about worker’s rights. Last year, without going into great detail (you can find my stories about KPAP on Medium), her work improved the lives and quality of work conditions for some fifty-five thousand porters (those are the individual trips they took up Kilimanjaro carrying gear and supplies). And yet, KPAP’s work is hardly done, for of the twenty thousand porters who count on Kili for work, to date KPAP has been able to register some 7500. That’s huge. KPAP still has lots of work to do not only to protect the gains that they have made here, but also to continue to get climbing companies to agree to become KPAP Partner companies. That really does protect porter’s working rights and living conditions.

Karen’s 62, and her sixty-hour weeks and intense efforts have begun to cost her health. So beginning March 1 of this year, she is pulling back a bit, as she has been working hard to develop three staff members to take over her duties. She’s done the work of two and a half people for all these years, and the talented people she’s hired are nearly ready to take over. She is going to hit the gym in Moshi, now that donors have made it possible for her to live in what she considers a “palatial” two-bedroom apartment, and she’s going to start taking better care of herself. AND she is now going to take on the role of consultant, for what she was able to do here (KPAP is an initiative of the International Mountain Explorer’s Connection based in Boulder, Colorado) needs to be done in other areas where there are indigenous populations providing porters and guides for those of us who want the adventure experience.

Karen has no intention of fading away. In fact, when she finishes out her slow, three-year retirement program, my guess is that this dynamic grey-hair is going to find herself in even more demand, for what she was able to accomplish here is a benchmark of best practices for the burgeoning adventure industry. The way I see it, Karen’s best years are ahead of her. For the considerable skills she’s built, the battles she’s fought and won, and the track record she has built has made her extremely valuable to other areas where porter rights are badly needed. But from here on out, she no longer has to subject herself to those grueling hours. As a consultant, she can pick and choose her projects, focus on developing other’s skills, and be the master she is at this age.

That is precisely why, when you and I pass sixty, what we have to offer the world is ever so much more valuable. If you let society and the pressure to look young talk you out of your belief in your extraordinary value, you rob the world of your greatest gifts right at the very time you and I most need to feel valuable. We are- beyond our wildest dreams- but we have to make that happen for ourselves and for the world that really does need us.

What Karen has done and will continue to do has changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. What Margaret has done and continues to do has changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. I might posit that both these women are, um, relevant.

I could list a hundred sixty-plus people in this article, but Margaret and Karen are prime examples of what the Inc. list lays out. During the final decades of our lives, the way I see it, you and I can settle onto the couch and watch endless reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, which brings back fond memories. All the while our bodies get weak and deteriorate, they lose strength and vitality, and we prove everyone else and ourselves right about how aging is hell, we lose strength and fall apart. Ain’t it awful.

Or, you can, like these dynamic women and so very many more like them about whom I have written here on Medium (and you can read plenty more about others on Sixty and Me), you can get off the couch, get busy, learn new skills and be incredibly relevant, powerful, influential. You and I do not need to be Jane Goodall to make a difference. We need only to shrug off societal misinformation and get after something we passionately care about.

I’ve decided to sell my home and move to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) for my final decades or at least part of them. When I do I will also be taking classes with the Northwest School of Animal Massage. I just recently spoke to the woman who runs it, who told me about a recent graduate of her equine massage program.

Lola Michelin, the school’s owner and operator, told me that this 76-year-old woman couldn’t wait to start her brand new career.

I don’t know about you, but that’s inspirational.

I passionately care about animals. Working on them puts the bird in my chest, just as doing adventure travel makes my heart beat faster, just as writing is who I am, not just what I do. I’ve combined all those things into what I do later in life. And like that new graduate, baby I’m just getting started. Because as I travel, I see more and more places where the work is so very crucial.

Life doesn’t have to slow down and get difficult as we age. We choose the direction of our lives, and when you and I take care of our bodies (and I might recommend Sixty and Me’s Gentle Yoga program) we ensure options. The world needs people like Margaret and Karen. The world needs you and me. At 67, I have found my talents and skills exploding into areas which, had you told me this twenty years ago, I’d have laughed you out of the room. However, my competence as a writer combined with my abilities of an (albeit, clumsy) athlete have put me into positions of influence, joy, and providing real value to my clients all over the world.

None of what I do now could have been possible twenty years ago.

That is the real gift of aging: the culmination of all those skills and gifts. We owe it to ourselves to stay healthy so that in our prime years we can give back what we’ve accumulated. You and I are ever more relevant in a world terrified of getting old, but wanting a long life. So when we work hard at utilizing the skills we’ve built, and like Margaret and Karen wield those skills in the world despite the messaging that grey hair means decrepitude, you and I model mastery.

One of the greatest gifts that we owe our kids and grandkids, and the generations coming up behind us, is the example of life being very well-lived right up until you and I hand our well-used bodies back to Mother Nature.

Are you relevant? Do you want to be? Then I might invite you to take full measure of all the skills and competencies that you have spent a lifetime building. A great many somebodies out there need you. Believe it. They do. And the sooner you get busy finding a way to gift those skills to others, the faster you’re going to be saying, I’m just too busy to watch TV these days.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash