I’m Terrified Of Becoming That Crotchety Old Man Everyone Despises
Seven behaviors and mindset shifts that stifle old age thinking
When my peer celebrated his 51st birthday, he said something that nearly crushed my soul.
I had wished him a happy birthday and then asked what was next for him. He mentioned his laser focus on his 57th birthday. That’s how old he’ll be when his youngest child graduates from college. “Eight years of work after she graduates,” he said. “And then I’m off to the golf courses.”
That wasn’t the comment that punched me in the gut. It was his next statement. “Fourteen more years,” he said. “If I keep my mouth shut and kiss ass, I can survive fourteen more years at this place.”
I asked what else had going on his life. He shrugged and said he was tired of the bullshit.
He may not be old in chronological years, but he’s old in spirit and mindset. He has surrendered his ambition, his dreams, and his hopes. He now lives only to run out the clock.
The seven mental shifts to keep you young
Sure, it’s sad when a guy in his prime decides to coast through the remainder of his life. When you’re in your thirties or forties, you see people like that and vow never to become one of them. Yet, so many fall into the trap.
I’m not far behind my peer in chronological age, but our spiritual age difference sets us apart. Here is how I keep a youthful mindset as I approach my sixth decade.
1) Keep the fire burning
When I was eighteen, I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me. I had dreams, ridiculous dreams, but the possibility excited me. At some point in my late thirties, I stopped dreaming.
It wasn’t a pivotal life moment or disappointment that caused it. Life gradually wears you down like ocean waves slowly eroding a beach. It happens too slowly to notice, but if you’re lucky, one day it hits you.
I was lucky. In my early forties, I had noticed that erosion, and it terrified me. At that moment, I created new goals and kickstarted my passion for writing.
Just like my early twenties, I’m living life with absurd, ridiculous ambitions. And it feels amazing.
2) Allow that shell to harden, but leave a few holes
In my twenties, I’d lose a night of sleep if someone made a disparaging or even slightly critical comment about me.
Today, I brush it off or ignore it. That’s not to say I don’t care at all. It’s more of a shifting perspective. When I tried to please everyone, I nearly went mad. Not caring as much does wonders for your mental state. But not caring at all makes you an asshole.
Your actions and words impact others, whether you’re 18 or 80. Go ahead and allow that hardening to take place. It protects your mental state. But, please, do remember that your words and actions can still hurt others.
3) Make the world a better place for the next generation
It’s a natural reaction to aging. You seek to protect what you have at all costs. You don’t want the world to change anymore. You want to keep it just as it is long enough for you to pass through it.
Young folks have more at stake when it comes to issues that adversely impact the future. They’ll still be around long enough to suffer the effects; self-interest works for them.
Caring about the world you leave behind keeps your mind young as you age. But it takes work. Self-interest no longer motivates you to protect the future; it motivates you to hold on to the present.
Work to create a better future, even if it has no impact on yours. It’s the simplest way to fight the selfish instinct and keep that youthful mindset.
4) Don’t be afraid to question your beliefs
I’ve experienced a strange dichotomy in the last few years. I’m more certain of my beliefs now than in my younger years. But I’m also keenly aware that my views have shifted dramatically. Who’s to say I won’t change my mind again?
New information and personal experiences have forced me to re-examine some of my positions. None of them have remained static over the years.
Many folks lose the ability to reshape their views as they age. It’s as if their brains were made of clay and then fired in a kiln to prevent any further disruption to their worldviews.
They no longer keep an open mind or alter beliefs to accommodate new information. They limit the range of what’s possible to their current store of knowledge.
Don’t fear new information or differing opinions; this is how we grow.
5) Don’t overestimate your accumulated wisdom
You accumulate lots of life experience. Don’t let it inflate your ego. I see it happening with myself. Sometimes I catch it before I say something stupid. But there are also times I say things that crush the enthusiasm of others.
It’s the damn wisdom mantra that infiltrates my thinking.
I thought I knew everything in my twenties. Now that I’m older, I really do know everything.
That’s bullshit, of course. We don’t know everything, and our vaulted wisdom often acts as a full stop when presented with opportunities for new adventures.
Poor results from the past often stifle our appetite for adventure and risk-taking. That’s when you become that crotchety old dude who shoots down ideas and dampens everyone’s enthusiasm.
I always remind myself that wisdom matters, but it’s not infallible. Use it as a guide, not a bible.
6) Always work on your passion
You don’t need to keep a day job forever. Besides, they probably won’t let you. But you can and should work a side gig or passion project. It doesn’t have to make you rich, but the extra cash can soften financial ups and downs.
It also fuels a sense of hunger — the same hunger that drove your ambition in your younger years. I see writers coming onto the scene in their sixties and seventies attack their work with the same zest, trepidation, and wonder as twenty-somethings. Let that serve as inspiration — the youthful spirit can endure throughout life.
7) Interact with people younger than you
One of the benefits of engaging in a side passion is that it allows you to interact with folks of all ages. I’m in a few writers groups that encompass people of ages 18 to 80.
The younger generation deals with fears, worries, and dreams that differ from yours. It will seem incomprehensible and bizarre to you. They came of age under a different set of circumstances. They have more at stake when it comes to the future.
You cannot understand these differences by observation alone. You need to discuss these issues with folks of all ages. You’ll gain a greater appreciation for the forces shaping their worldviews and motivations.
Summary — Do these seven things to stay young
- Always have goals. Always seek to achieve something.
- Never think your age entitles you to violate social norms without consequence.
- Make the world better for future generations.
- Stay open-minded. Beliefs can and should change as you acquire new information.
- Keep your wisdom in check. Don’t let it handcuff you. Don’t use it stifle the dreams of others.
- Never stop working.
- Engage with younger folks. It changes your perspective.