Do We Get Better With Age?

Last Updated Jun 30, 2011 8:31 PM EDT

Do We Get Better With AgeConventional wisdom says it's good to be young. That, by the time you've been around long enough to understand how everything works, you're too old to enjoy it.

Well, I'm going to challenge that and take on an issue that's become a personal and professional battleground for many of you.

You see, jobs are at a premium and it's not at all clear which generation, if any, is being discriminated against. Baby boomers tell me their jobs are going to younger and cheaper talent. But the data shows that younger people have far higher levels of unemployment.

Besides the jobs thing, there's all that hoopla over generation gaps and generational profiling - real, imagined, or otherwise - between our aging population of baby boomers and Generation X, Y, Z, and who knows what comes next.

Here's how I'd like to approach this big hairy issue, if I may. It's a question for the ages if there ever was one: Do People Get Better With Age?

To start the conversation, I thought I'd list what, about you and me, gets better with age and what doesn't. See what you think:

What gets better with age?

  • Experience. Now, experience may be overrated as a criteria for hiring and promoting, as we previously discussed, but that doesn't mean it's ever a bad thing. We gain confidence from our successes and learn real life lessons from our failures. It's all good.
  • Management ability. For the vast majority, competence, functional skill, decision-making, most of the necessary ingredients for good management practice improves with age and, of course, experience.
  • Leadership ability. Confidence, humor, humility, empathy, virtually all leadership characteristics seem to improve with age. That's why CEOs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became better leaders as they "grew up."
  • Men. This is sure to be a controversial one, but, for the most part, men remain immature longer and tend to grow up much later than women do, at least in my experience. Simply put, I think men tend to become better people with age.
  • Comfort in your own skin. I guess temperament and maturity go along with that pretty well. The very act of growing up, getting experience under your belt, and getting to know yourself, people, and how the world works, tends to help most of us feel more comfortable in our own skin. At least, that's the theory.
What gets worse with age?
  • Stamina. Whatever you do for a living or for fun, you can't do it for as long as you used to, that's for sure.
  • Staying in shape. On two separate occasions, in response to compliments about how good they looked, two aging, well-known silicon valley executives told me the same thing, "You have no idea how much it takes to look this good at my age." Yup, it's true.
  • Health. Allergies, eyes, hair, skin, joints, pain. I can go on and on about this, but it's pretty straightforward that things don't work as well as they used to, that's for sure.
  • Hangovers. Yup, it's a fact, older people just can't party like they used to. The unfortunate result of a slowing metabolism.
  • Memory. I'm pretty sure this is biological fact, but I'm definitely sure you'll let me know if I'm wrong.
  • Adaptability. This may be a myth; I'm not really sure. Still, I had to throw it in here and see what happens. It's certainly age-old wisdom that we become more set in our ways, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, that sort of thing. It clearly doesn't apply to everyone and all things, but it might be a fairly accurate generalization.
That's where I am on the debate. On the whole, I'd say that it's a pretty mixed bag. That said, while the body does tend to deteriorate, personal and professional growth - in terms of ability, experience, competence, emotional intelligence, all that good stuff - would seem to more than compensate.

So, I'm going to come down on the side of aging being more or less a good thing. What do you think?

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