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Random thoughts on aging

The other night I saw an ad on TV sponsored by the AARP.  In the ad, several folks in their 50s to 60s were talking about what they wanted to do when they ‘grew up.’

“When I grow up, I want to be a pilot,” said one.  Another chimed in: “When I grow up, I want to own a restaurant.”  They all had grand plans for their retirement years.

As I was sitting there, hunkered down into my comfortable chair after a rather trying day, all I could think about was “when I grow up I want to drive a big lawn mower on the side of a highway somewhere.”  Just give me an iPod and a set of ear buds and park me on the mower for eight hours by myself.

OK, so it was at the end of a pretty stressful day. But still, even on a good day, I have a hard time thinking about taking on something with the stress and pressure of running a restaurant. Maybe an exhibit house but certainly not a restaurant.

I’m beginning to understand the metamorphosis that happens to the person who holds the office of the President of the United States. Pick any president and look at a picture of him on the day he took office and the day he left office. Are you sure that was only four (or eight) years? Why do they all look so much older and so much more worn out?

Maybe it’s just the natural aging process at work, something we all deal with, and they’re just more in the limelight. If I take the time to stare at myself in the mirror in the morning (I prefer not to) it does seem that I have taken on some of the classic signs of aging. There is less hair, and what is there is graying. Forget the beard or goatee or whatever new portion of facial hair is cool now. Mine is all grey. I keep threatening my family that once I’m completely bald, I’m going to grow a grey rat tail all the way down my back. They don’t seem too concerned.

A while back I got into a conversation on aging with the creative director at an ad agency we work with. His theory is that mentally and emotionally everyone reaches a certain age and stays there, regardless of how long they live. Chronologically he was in his late 30s but he said he feels like he is about 12 – that time when boys are wide-eyed explorers, fearless and curious, before the volcanic teen years set in and adult responsibility takes hold.

I’ve thought about that conversation numerous times over the years and tried to determine my emotional age. Near as I can tell, I’m still in college, approaching life with a positive energy, looking to learn and grow and have some fun along the way. Lately, however, I’ve felt more like the college student in his ninth year of college, having stayed well past his welcome and needing to get a real job.

This whole topic of aging was brought front and center for me when I recently picked up Bob Buford’s book Half Time.  In the book, the author suggests that we all reach that point in our lives when we need to change our game plan from working to achieve success to planning for significance.

This half time, or period of reflection on where you’ve been and where you want to go with your life, requires asking some important questions: What am I really good at?  What do I want to do? What is most important to me? What do I want to be remembered for?
I remember thinking about these same questions when I was in college, reading Richard Bolle’s book What Color Is Your Parachute. 
The answers to these questions 30 years later are somewhat different.

For me, I am absolutely energized when I am on the show floor. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first day of set-up or the first day of the show – I love the smell of fresh-laid aisle carpet. Being there gives me energy. It fills my tank and fires me up. Working with my clients at their shows is one of the best parts of my job. When I’m there on the show floor I feel no older than I did when I walked onto my first show floor in Oct. 1981.

It’s just that now there is so much more peripheral distraction than there was in 1981, when my sole purpose in (corporate) life was producing shows for my company.

One interesting observation from Peter Drucker referenced in the Half Time book: retirees have not proven to be the fertile source of volunteer effort we once thought they would be. They cut their engines off and lose their edge. The author believes that if you do not have a second or parallel career in service by age 45, and if you are not vigorously involved in it by age 55, it will never happen.

You must discover what you are passionate about, what you are good at doing, and what creates significance in order to stay young at heart when you are well on in chronological age.

So what exactly is it that you want to do when you grow up?

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 28 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive.  He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal.  He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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