Aging: Staying Involved

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As we grow older, we tend to be happy with the things we know and understand, and much less comfortable with things that are new to us. We lose both our tolerance for change and our ability to adapt to it.

People who grew up with treadle sewing machines (powered by peddling with one foot), in the early 20th century, were spooked by the electric sewing machines of the late 20th century.

People who grew up when television sets had to be turned on and off by hand, were often comically afraid of remote controls. Many people who grew up with dial telephones now often use cell phones, but many older cell phone users will admit to being uncertain and incompetent with features like contact lists, messaging and customizing user settings.

Let’s face it, many people 50 and older are technophobes (afraid of technology). Perhaps we feel that there is too much to learn and not enough time to learn it. We tend to distrust new ways of doing things and feel that the old ways got us through the first half of our lives and should be able to get us through the last half.

If you don’t know how to use a computer in 2011, you had might as well not even bother applying for an office job. You must be computer literate to work in an office these days.
In fact, if you’re not computer literate, you won’t be able to find work more complicated than dishwasher or day labourer. And just being able to use a keyboard and read a screen doesn’t make you computer literate. You usually need to specify what programs and applications you are best with (and you’d better know the current version number).

The less you know, the less employable you become – until you finally get put out to pasture. So staying relevant is a good idea for everyone – and absolutely essential for anyone who wants or needs to keep working.

10 tips for staying relevant

1) Don’t stop learning. Most tasks aren’t as scary or difficult as they may seem. You don’t need to know scientific principles or how something works in order to learn how to use it (ie: turn to channel 100, then push and hold down the yellow button on your remote control to access the On-Demand listings).

2) Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Read newspapers and magazines… and most importantly – go online. Most e-mail servers now have links to sites that will tell you what’s going on in popular culture. You don’t actually have to go to the sites of gossip magazine – just read the headlines, so you have a basic grasp of what’s happening in the worlds of sports and entertainment. Keep up with breaking news stories and pay attention to business news, since that could have a major impact on the marketplace you live and work in.

3) Get out into the community. Helping others deal with their issues will give you a much better grasp of how to handle your own – and a great sense of accomplishment. As long as you are an important part of someone else’s life, you will always be relevant to at least one other person.

4) Give as well as receive. Many seniors allow themselves to become helpless. If you would prefer young people to think of you as wise rather than cute, make a point of sharing your skills and knowledge as much as possible.

5) Upgrade your computer every so often and download free software updates when available.

6) Use social media – sign up for basic Facebook and LinkedIn accounts – making sure to use all the privacy settings and giving out only as much information about yourself as you are comfortable with.

7) Keep in contact with friends and relatives. Know what’s going on in your family.

8) Listen to new music occasionally. Turn on the radio and listen to popular stations when you are in the car.

9) Stay independent for as long as possible. When you allow others to do too much for you, you become incapable of doing it yourself.

10) As the rock band The Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “give it away, give it away, give it away now….” Remember the old saying, “you can’t take it with you [when you die]”. You must be careful to leave yourself enough money to survive comfortably and make sure you’re giving your money to someone who deserves it (if you do it in the form of interest free loans, you can get it back to help others in the future). You’ll never be irrelevant as long as you’re giving someone money.

Obviously, these are just general guidelines that you can adjust according to your lifestyle, cultural traditions, capabilities or inclination. The most important things are to keep learning, keep an open mind and keep sharing your knowledge and resources with others.

When and if the time finally comes when you realize that you have stopped learning and are afraid of new things, realize that you’ll have to learn how accept help when you need it.

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