When I was 23, I was hired as a writer for a catalog company. One day over lunch, an older coworker (she was probably all of 38!) let me know that I was the youngest person ever hired for my position. Surrounded by coworkers a decade or so older than me, I did my best to not act my age. For years, I was the youngest person in the room.
Years later, I went to work for an advertising agency. For some reason, agencies operate under the misconception that creativity can spring only from youthful minds. At almost 40, I had just about reached my expiration date. While I did my best to assimilate into the 20- and 30-something culture, I came to realize that my days as the youngest person in the room were long over.
Now at 18 months shy of my 60th birthday, I am among the oldest people in most rooms that I’m in, and with that new role comes many changes to which to adjust (clicking joints, waking up at 4 am and having no idea who is singing that song on the radio … or even caring!). And I know things will become even more challenging with my advancing years.
In his book, We Are the Oldest People in the Room, Dr. Kent S. Miller, clinical psychologist, researcher and columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat, who passed away in 2017, reflected on reaching the advanced age of 89 and navigating the ups and downs of being the oldest people in the room.
Below we share a few of the wise and remarkably witty insights that Miller learned along the way:
Visits. Don’t stay with your kids or grandkids for more than 10 days at a time. That’s about as long as you can convincingly hide all your faults, including falling asleep in a pool of drool. While in kids’ and grandkids’ presence, avoid slang at all costs, particularly those phrases that are part of your grandkids’ vernacular. It’ll prevent a lot of embarrassment – maybe not yours but definitely your grandkids’!
Cell phones. As the rest of the world demands 24/7 connectivity, why squander the time you have left learning the idiosyncrasies of that phone in your pocket? Do you tap or swipe? How do you keep from disconnecting your current call, while grabbing an incoming call? What is that infernal pass code again? “So, if you have trouble getting through to us, it is not personal,” Miller told his readers. He recommended an actual visit instead of a call but admitted that you still may not get to see him because he and his wife had a peephole.
Sex. The majority of older adults are engaged in spousal or other intimate relationships and many are sexually active into their 80s and 90s. Despite the statistics, Miller advised to “quit worrying about how you compare with the norm. There is no norm.” He related the story of a staff member at a nursing home encountering two residents having sex. When she asked her boss what she should do about it, he said, “Tiptoe out and close the door so that you won’t disturb them.” Ba-dum-tsss!
Friends. Friends are precious, particularly the ones who have been around for decades. Miller offered a few ways to know whether that companion is a true friend. You can call him or her at 4 am in an emergency. There’s no such thing as an uncomfortable silence. “When you forget what you have forgiven but remember what you have received,” then you have a friend indeed. When he and his wife visited a group of friends they’d had for decades, he knew that “the goodbye hugs come with the awareness that this might be our last such hug.”
Last times. One year before his death, Miller and his wife traveled 8,000 miles in the short space of five weeks, attending a college graduation and a wedding of their grandchildren and the funeral of his brother. They laughed, cried, danced, and celebrated. Most of all they learned that “life changes and moves on.” He wrote, “I was aware that I was doing some things for the last time … The trick is to focus on what remains, find the fun, pay attention, review your priorities. Remember the past and face the future.”
Those are words to live by … not just when you’ve become the oldest person in the room, but throughout your entire life!
Find Dr. Kent Miller’s book, We Are the Oldest People in the Room, here.