A few years ago, I had dinner with one of the most well respected analysts in our field. He had recently been forced into retirement, from the firm he founded and led for two decades, due to his acquirer’s mandatory retirement age of 62. He had not yet decided what his next step would be. At the time, it struck me how short-sighted that policy would prove to be for the value of that acquisition.
This week America watched someone who is emblematic of the power of perseverance and playing the long game—and proof that incredible accomplishments can occur late in life—swear in as President of the United States. Joe Biden first ran for President at age 45. He ran again at 66. He served as Vice President until he was 74. You would think that role would have been a perfect capstone of an incredible career in politics. But he had one more race in him.
Due to a better understanding of healthy habits, outstanding innovation in medical treatments, and improvements in public safety, life expectancy continues to climb. If you want to humor (or terrify) yourself, you can calculate your own life expectancy. According to this calculator, my projected life expectancy is 99. When that mandatory retirement age was established by many firms, the average life expectancy for white men was only 68.
How would we approach life if we knew we would live to 100?
Think about entrepreneurship. Many presume it is for twenty-somethings like Mark Zuckerberg or Payal Kadakia from Class Pass. In reality, the average age of first-time founders is 40, which coincidentally is exactly the age I was when I started WeSpire (technically my second startup). Another study found the most successful startups were founded by people even older—and that a 50-year-old founder was twice as likely to be successful as a 30-year-old. If 40 is the average, for every 20-something there is likely a 60-something founder out there, too.
If we were planning for longevity, how would we look at the future? Would we learn more languages, musical instruments, or new skills? A common belief is that it is easier for a child to learn new languages or instruments than an adult. Yes, brain development does give children some advantage. But the advantages—time for learning, patience, being “in learning mode,” and less fear of making mistakes—can be mastered by adults. And research shows that adults have a leg up in certain areas.
What matters most for a thriving life at any age, besides healthy habits, is dedication to continuous learning. People who see learning as a lifelong activity more easily adapt to changes, whether driven by technology or society. Research published by the Harvard Business Review shows lifelong learning improves your health, your wallet, and your social life.
One of my favorite interview questions is to ask people to tell me about something they have taught themselves over the last six months. I don’t really care what it is—what I am looking to see is whether they have a commitment to learning new things. If you aren’t willing to constantly learn new things in a technology company, you won’t survive.
So what are you going to learn in 2021? What new chapter of your life are you going to start to write? Whether you are reading this at 22 or 80, I am confident there is something new you still want to do. You have plenty of time. Just do it.