Mid Century Classic – You Are What You Say You Are

(This post was originally published in the Career Pivot Blog.)

“Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”

David Mamet

I first heard the term “mid –century classic” from a realtor on a home design program on television. She was referring to – of all things – a ranch house built in about 1957. Instead of describing it as low, cramped, and plain (as I saw it), she raved about its “clean lines, sleek styling and accessible décor.”

You are what you say you are.

I run into fellow baby boomers every day who describe themselves in terms that peg them as over the hill. “I don’t really get Twitter.” “I barely know how to use this stupid new phone.” “I just want to make it a couple more years until retirement.” “I need a flexible job so I can spend more time with the grandkids.”

News flash, boomers: it’s time to get your swagger back. We were born in the 1950s, and in retrospect, it was a very cool era. The 50s produced cultural icons like James Dean, the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.  Rock n Roll was invented. Blue jeans became the national uniform. Disneyland opened. These things are still cool today. You can be, too.

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Old School. Classic. Vintage. Retro. Original. All ways of saying the same thing: old.   But old with swagger.  Here are some tips to make sure you make the most of your classic self.

  1. Get a little thinner and a lot stronger. In part, what people perceive as youth is really about energy level. Fit and well-rested is appealing at any age, and great posture will make you look taller, thinner, and more confident. A smile gives you an instant facelift and makes you much more approachable.
  2. Remind yourself that beauty doesn’t disappear with age, but it does change. The Japanese have a term for it: wabi sabi. Wabi sabi reminds us that beauty is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Therefore, we appreciate objects (and people) with flaws; in fact, it’s the flaws that make them beautiful. This explains the demand for reclaimed barn wood. Its flaws, its age and its back story all go into its unique appeal. Actress Helen Mirren, who will turn 70 this year, kills on the red carpet. She doesn’t look like Emma Stone, and she doesn’t want to. She wears long sleeves, minimal jewelry and trusts artful draping, and she’s the picture of radiant confidence.
  3. Get comfortable with technology. It’s not fair that our generation is being pegged as tech-averse; after all, Jobs, Wozniak, and Gates were all boomers. But the perception is there, and even the appearance of refusing to adapt to new gadgets instantly ages you.  I know it’s a pain to learn every new software iteration and download endless upgrades (patience was never the boomers’ strong suit) but your professional survival depends on it.
  4. Finally, focus on what you do best and position yourself as an expert. Young workers are willing to try everything and hope for the best; it’s part of their learning process. Classics like us know what we do well after years of honing our skills; we tend to specialize and build deep expertise. Show the company what they get when they hire someone with skill and experience: a team member who knows how to lead as well as follow. And learned, both, by the way, by understanding when to get out of the way.

So remember this the next time you’re tempted to feel sorry for yourself: no one would ever choose a 2014 Prius over a 1958 Corvette as his dream car. Miles plus hip attitude beats that new car smell every time.

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