Over the years, I have seen seniors flourish and perish. Like the old adage says: ‘Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away’. There are a number of lessons I have learnt as I grow older. These lessons help me stay real, relevant and relational.
Re-Purpose and Re-define Yourself
“Our purpose (doing and performing) must be deeply immersed in our meaning (being and relating) not the other way round.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Timothy Khoo, Former President of Prisons Fellowship International. He differentiated between purpose and meaning.
According to Mr. Khoo, Purpose is Doing and Performing while Meaning is Being and Relating. Many of us find our purpose in doing and performing. A doctor finds his purpose when he can heal patients and perform successful operations. We find our purpose in our ability to execute and excel. Our meaning in life (being and relating) is tied to our purpose.
Unfortunately, when we are retrenched or forced to retire, we lose our purpose and meaning. Our purpose is also often tied to our positions in life. People relate to us because of our authority, position, ability to make decisions and influence. Our relationships hinge on and are dependent on our positions.
But when we lose our positions, we find that we have no more influence. Without influence, we lose our relationships. People do not consult us anymore because they related to us when we were useful to them.
When the organization makes us redundant, we lose our purpose and meaning in life. We lose our bearings too. Our true North, which was anchored on our performance, is derailed because our meaning (being and relating) has stemmed from our purpose, which is our ability to deliver and meet our company’s KPIs.
Life becomes purposeless and meaningless because we are no longer needed. We feel people are ungrateful. We become critical and even cynical about life because our organization has retrenched us to make way for younger people (because they are willing to be paid less). Our lives spiral downwards.
However, we need to find our purpose in meaning, not the other way around. We should reapply our lives to find meaning in our being, values and relationships. That is why strengthening our inner core and nurturing good values are critical. Because when we are in crisis, we collapse into our essential self.
This new meaning is only possible when we reorder our priorities and put relationships first: Family, Friends and Co-workers. Investing time and energy in nurturing our employees is more critical than pushing them to perform. They will remember us more for how we have developed them rather than just seeing them as functional units in organizations.
Our family members will remember us for making time for them rather than how much money and property we have garnered in our accounts. Money comes and goes but flourishing relationships remain etched in our minds for a long time.
This is also true in friendships. If we only spend time with our friends because we need them or use them for our own ends, they will see us as transactional friends or, as in the words of a movie, Friends with Benefits.
That is why at our funeral, our eulogy is not about how much money we have amassed but whose lives we have touched.
Hence, our purpose (doing and performing) must be deeply immersed in our meaning (being and relating) not the other way round.
Restore your self-belief
“Your power to choose your direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation.”
Because some seniors’ self-esteem has taken a beating, their self-belief is low. They lack self-confidence, especially after their retirement and rejection after rejection in their job searches. They feel that they have passed their ‘shelf-life’ or ‘best-before-date’.
To restore my own self-belief, these are what I do:
-Know what I cannot do
I know there are many things that I cannot do well and need to be open to learning. For example, I am very poor in using Google drive for sharing documents and doing surveys through Google forms. In fact, I have deep fears about them.
I make sure that my younger staff explain and help me understand how the technology can enhance my effectiveness. I tell myself to be willing to embrace the new and more efficient ways of doing things. I seek their advice and support regularly (although it makes me feel like a dinosaur).
-Know what I am really good at and continue to grow in that field
Our self-confidence comes from knowing what we are really good at. My friend and mentor, Peter is a prime example of this. He is great communicator, a consummate thinker and social commentator.
He enthrals us with his reading, both fiction and non-fiction, engaging with the latest thinkers in the field of leadership, and updates himself on world events. Recently, I was at his office and saw that many of his books are underlined and scrawled with his thoughts.
That is why his thoughts are so far-sighted and insightful. You can get a taste of his thought-leadership from his latest book, Ponderings En Route (www.eagles.org.sg).
The worst mistake that seniors make is to rest on their laurels and previous expertise, without keeping up with the times. You either flourish or perish. There is no stationary position in growing our minds.
Retool your competence
“You are never too old to reinvent yourself”
In an age of digital disruption, AI, IoT and Machine Learning, the fear of becoming obsolete is very real. We are afraid that our competence will be replaced by robots or artificial intelligence.
Senior doctors cannot just rely on their intuition or experience to make sound medical judgments. Medical advances have grown by leaps and bounds. Surgeons have to relearn new skills to operate new medical technologies to better diagnose and treat illnesses and perform surgery.
With face-recognition and machine learning technologies, retail shops, hotels and restaurants are better able to meet customers’ needs, create better customer loyalty, personalize customers’ choices and increase their sales. Sales and Service directors/managers/staff must unlearn, learn and relearn their competence to meet these demands. Their competencies need retooling!
The good news is that we can teach old dogs new tricks! This is the essence of neuro-plasticity. Our brain is the most agile and adaptive part of our being. We grow new cells every day, provided we have sufficient and quality sleep. We can retrain our wiring to learn new skills, provided we are determined and persevering.
Without the neuro-plasticity of our brains, many handicapped people would remain handicapped. Many mentally ill patients would have no hope of recovery. Many of us would remain forever irrelevant in our fast-changing world.
The story of Zy, the 10-year son of my friend, Mr Walter Lee, is a case in point. He was born with only one complete limb. Walter’s and his wife, Nok’s lives were completely devastated. They were totally unprepared and shocked despite their doctors telling them their son’s birth would go well, up to one week before his birth. For two years after the birth, the couple fought, cried, and cursed, trying to understand why this had happened to them. Be inspired by their story:
Two years later, Walter decided to be a father to his disabled son and that changed their lives completely. Today, they have started the Zy Foundation (www.zmf-asia.org) to bring independent living to 10 million children with movement disabilities in Asean. Recently, Zy became the youngest swimmer in Para Sukma 2018 and took home back-to-back bronze and silver medals in the 100m freestyle and 50m backstroke respectively.
That is why is it never too late to retool our competence and rewire our brains. But it takes guts and grit.