Fifty. It’s an age that tends to focus the mind: a milestone moment that forces us to take stock of everything we’ve achieved in our lives.

Maybe that’s because 50 is seen as a designated halfway mark, a point where society expects us to slow down rather than speed up. But why should we? Particularly when some of us are just getting going and regard age as a state of mind – if we think about it at all.

Take Lee Shau Kee, who recently stepped down as Chairman of Hong Kong-headquartered Henderson Land Development Co. Yes, at 91, he was looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren; but Lee remains director of the company, is still very much involved in major decision-making and is planning to continue with his charity work.

Because there is, undoubtedly, a big upside to being 50 and over. The more years under your belt, the smarter and better informed you are. And with greater knowledge comes greater experience so, naturally, people are keen to get your perspective on the world.

Curious and relevant

Perhaps there’s no better example of this than The Elders, an age-defying independent group of global leaders – who no longer hold public office but help tackle the world’s most intractable problems – that was co-founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007. Current members include Ban Ki-moon, former U.N. secretary-general (75); Hina Jilani, the pioneering lawyer and human rights champion (66); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia (80); Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president (94); and Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town (87).

When asked why the group had been formed, musician and co-founder Peter Gabriel said: “In traditional societies, the elders always had a role in conflict resolution, long-term thinking and applying wisdom wherever it was needed.” In other words, sage advice, experience and enterprise never go out of style.

Yet the benefit of age is not simply about the wisdom you can impart to other people. At 50, you also become more confident about what’s right for you -personally. Gina Din-Kariuki is one Kenya’s most influential businesswomen, and founder and executive chair of management consultancy The Gina Din Group. When she turned 50, it wasn’t a negative experience. It was a positive revelation: “I realized I finally settled down to who I was,” she told Business Daily Africa. “It’s been absolutely incredible. At 50, there are certain things I turn down and I’m not afraid to turn them down.”

Looking to the future

You have greater perspective than you did when you were younger, too, have a better EQ/IQ balance and are less inclined to sweat the small stuff. Admittedly, you may have to work harder at keeping physically and mentally fit, but you know that your body will be more responsive as a result and your mind will be relaxed and constantly inquiring.

Happily, our brains are not like hard drives. However old we are, there’s always enough storage for more data – and that keeps us vital and connected to the world, as designer Karl Lagerfeld proved. A prime example of the benefits of lifelong learning, he regarded age with scorn and – with his ravenous appetite for knowledge – always managed to stay curious, agile and relevant. True, Lagerfeld shunned social media, but he kept himself plugged into the zeitgeist in other ways, consuming and buying the latest technology as soon as it became available. 

In business, 50 is worn as a badge of honor. The older a company or organization is, the more prestigious it becomes, particularly when it reaches its half-century. Sadly, it doesn’t always seem to work that way with humans. Perhaps it should. If we take a pioneering leaf out of Lee Shau Kee’s and Karl Lagerfeld’s book, a more positive, dynamic and forward-looking life will await us. To blazes with the senior citizen stereotypes. We could step into the future feeling ageless, in control and reveling in the power of possibility. — Tony Greenway

Published: September 2019

Images: Danae Diaz for Delivered.