“Just Say No” was Nancy Reagan’s battle cry for dealing with rampant drug abuse in the 1980s. Though simplistic in form and still unproven in actual effectiveness, it remains a sincere and worthwhile sentiment when trying to keep our youth from ever even considering trying drugs. I mention this because today’s lesson in reinvention calls for us to have the same cry and the same fervor when dealing with how our current culture often treats those who are thrust into a season of reinvention simply because they have a few extra candles on their birthday cake. Author Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot states, “In the twenty-first-century culture, there continues to be a preoccupation with all things youthful, and a prejudice – however veiled – against the symbols and signs of aging.” John Tarnoff describes himself as “feeling discouraged and wondering how my years of hard work had led to an apparent dead end” due to his own personal experience of being pushed out of a successful career. In corporate lingo this is referred to as age bias, and is technically illegal within discrimination laws. Unfortunately, as many who now must reinvent have experienced, a bias against the older generation in the workforce is very real, illegal or not.
What is the answer? Lawsuits are expensive, and publically complaining about it only casts one into being seen as a bitter old guy, so it is important to take the legendary business leadership guru Dale Carnegie’s advice to heart, “When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health, and our happiness.” When someone tells us that we no longer have value because we got older, we must simply “just say no”: refuse to get old and don’t listen to the haters. I believe age only matters if we allow it to. Staying young is a matter of will, mind, and spirit. We must not allow anyone to define us or discriminate against us because we are older. Instead, our self-definition must be based on who we choose to be, the work we choose to do, and the calling we believe God places on our lives. To emphasize this point, note that there is no example in all of the Bible where God tells people that they have aged out of serving and being useful and valuable. Nowhere will you find that people should stop contributing when they become older. Nowhere.
What about retirement? Shouldn’t we be willing to step aside and fade into the shadows? Again, scripture never suggests someone should retire, and for those who embrace the call of remaining faithful and productive, they will agree with Lawrence-Lightfoot, who stated,
Retirement is not in their vocabulary; they do not want to retreat from their engagement in, or contribution to, society, even though they are eager to develop new kinds of activity, new daily rhythms, new habits of conduct, and new sources of motivation and reward.
In other words, instead of retirement: REINVENTION. However, it requires saying no to those who would try to call you too old and cast you away, and for you to take charge of your own future, with God’s help, of course. For me, this means, as Steve Donahue states, “be myself rather than impersonate someone else.” I choose to “just say no” to getting older, and even more so to those who would claim that I am. I choose to follow T.D. Jakes’ advice, “Age and experience, when combined with action and enthusiasm, can make a powerful set of wings.” You should, too.
Our reinventin lesson today: Refuse to get old.
Go reinvent yourself and lead well.