A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.
“People have always tended to segregate themselves by age, teenagers hanging around with teenagers, old people with old people…”
Tom Wolfe, The Pump House Gang
The secret to feeling young is to avoid age segregation and hang out with people both younger and older than yourself.
To this end, I have been partaking in weekly bike rides with three gentlemen, all of whom are a generation older than me. I have written about some of the wisdom I have received from my wise friends in several mentor articles.
When the Weather Channel heard about our riding group, they graciously provided us with matching jerseys to celebrate our multi-generational approach to friendship.
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A Generational Sandwich
Research confirms that most adults have friends who are within a few years of their age. It starts with school, in which your peer group is largely others your age. It is then reinforced by marriage. In the Western world, the average age disparity between spouses is approximately 30-months. With both spouses about the same age, age segregation is strengthened, as each partner typically establishes relationships with peers of a similar age.
The addition of children to a marriage further vulcanizes age segregation, as the relationships parents create through their children’s activities are typically with other parents of a similar age.
Friendships with people of a like age are typically based on similarities. In contrast, relationships with people who are either significantly older or younger than you are more often based on differences. It is these dissimilarities that add a rich youthfulness to your life.
Where You’re Going
“But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest…”
Last line in Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
When your friendships are among people who are your age, you are constantly reminded of the aging process. For instance, when you are in your 20’s and your friends begin to invite you to their weddings, you suddenly feel that you are “getting older.” Then come baby showers, which make you feel older still.
In contrast, when you expand your friendships beyond your chronological peers, you enjoy a recurring feeling of adolescence. In my case, the youngest member of my biking group is nearly 15-years older than me, which causes them to refer to me as a “kid” and a “youngster.” Nothing makes a 52-year old feel young like being called “a kid.”
In addition, older people are typically willing to speak their minds and provide frank counsel. As one of my biking buddies once told me, “One thing about aging is that you realize you have less and less to lose.” These men have all become my mentors and I value their friendship among my most treasured possessions.
Where You’ve Been
As a Professor at UC Santa Barbara, I am blessed to work with enterprising and talented entrepreneurs in their early 20’s. My students’ passion, hunger to learn and naive optimism energizes me every time I stand before them in a classroom or sit across from them during my office hours.
The combination of my older and wiser, yet young-at-heart, friends and my vibrant student interactions keep me humbled and inspired. Practicing age desegregation also infuses me with a youthful vigor which I believe would be impossible to maintain if my only frame-of-reference were my aging peers, all of whom seem to be losing their remaining grey hair and adding a few pounds with each passing year.
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