You Are More Competent Than You Think

Barbara Morris

One of the many things in our culture that makes me crazy and needs to change is the belief in a

simple but powerful equation that rules and ruins too many lives: Advanced chronological age equals incompetence. Your chronological “number” (age)  is most important and more telling of your mental and physical competence than anything else. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!  

From year 2000 to 2014, the lifespan for healthy productive  individuals who reached or exceeded age 100 increased by 43.6 percent, but common cultural knowledge doesn’t recognize or accept that fact. It is still believed that based on age alone, advanced age equals incompetence. Overlooked are many mature business owners and workers enjoying their ability to solve problems and help others  enjoy and profit from their efforts.

            This brings to mind Gert Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear who recently passed away at age 95. She went to the office every day before she died. She was called “One Tough Mother” and indeed she was — a role model for all mature women who don’t want to be held back by awareness of their age, or by cultural assumptions about what’s right or possible for “old” people.

Beginning at the age of the early to mid seventies, retired men (and women) often  start to decline rapidly. Let’s look at a few actual causes.

  1. Men have lost most of their testosterone, which can be replaced but most men won’t seek help or have been led to believe replacement is dangerous. Additionally, many retirees live a flabby leisure oriented lifestyle that doesn’t require much challenging mental or physical effort. Many workers believe non-challenging retirement is their Holy Grail. You know their mantra, “I’ve worked hard all my life and deserve my retirement”. Of course they do! They paid into Social Security and are going to apply for paltry benefits as early as possible even if early leisure retirement kills them prematurely.
  2. Their health is shot, thanks to past dietary indiscretions and the contemporary American diet that lacks adequate daily needed nutrients, but is full of destructive sugars. The depleted diet is the “main menu” not just once in a while but consistently, as a way of life over the years. The eventual result is diabetes and other debilitating diseases and conditions that don’t “just happen” to people because they are chronologically old. In many cases, decline is exacerbated by nasty side effects of many medications old people are often given.
  3. A “live for today” lifestyle beginning in youth. It’s impossible to beat up on your health with a partying lifestyle while young, with excessive alcohol, drugs, lack of adequate food and sleep and expect to be a healthy rock star when age 65 hits. It’s just not going to happen for most individuals. Self imposed physical and mental abuse will catch up with you. How often have you heard a decrepit,  chronologically old guy fantasize about his past and boast, “When I was young you wouldn’t believe what I did . . .”  but he forgets to add, “Now I’m paying the price.” Can decline be reversed or mitigated? Much can, but be prepared to expend  some mental muscle and physical effort to make it happen.
  1.  “How old do you think I am?” That question, often asked by older people, (young people don’t do it) reveals the importance of chronological age in our culture. It is usually asked in expectation of receiving a feel good compliment and demonstrates the individual’s thought that they are “old” and wish they were not. Remember, your chronological number is meaningless in the older years. What matters is your level of mental and physical competence. Constant focus on age is not only depressing, it’s debilitating. It impairs competence so let it go.
  2. Competence is not valued or protected. Do you care how others treat or respond to you? Do you whine about aches and pains to anyone willing listen? Do you believe it’s time for others to do for you even those things you are capable of doing for yourself? If so, that’s begging for decline to kick in. Also, when younger people don’t know your age, if you present yourself in an alert, interested manner, they treat you as a peer. They don’t yell at you and automatically assume you are deaf, or speak to you as if you are a child. They don’t automatically assume you are deaf or senile. They speak to, and with you, as if they believe you are a competent, intelligent human being.

You can’t hide your age from family members. They can be the worst offenders if they believe the equation “advanced age equals incompetence”. God forbid you reach age 90 or above, they KNOW you have one foot on a banana peel and they feel obligated to do your thinking and decision making for you. What to do? Ignore their well intentioned efforts. Keep growing intellectually, maintain physical competence  and assert your independence. If you are mentally competent, you have power to make your own decisions. Do it!

You may have to deal with slowed thought processes but so what. As long as you are mentally competent, FAMILY  perceptions and imaginations about you are THEIR problem, not yours, so love your family (and others) in spite of their skewed misunderstandings about advanced chronological age. Value and assert your competence!

Work diligently with brain games such as Lumosity, Posit Science,  crossword puzzles, and take food supplements that  support brain health. If possible, get a challenging job or engage in activity that requires you to think quick complex thoughts. Regularly participate in adequate  physical activity especially when you don’t feel like it. Efforts that result in success are your ticket to freedom.

Here’s the icing on the cake: Your ability to maintain your competence enables you to help others. You can be a victim or a victor. You can either be debilitated in a nursing home or a healthy volunteer in a nursing home.  It is in giving of ourselves that we get back, not always in kind, but often, greater unexpected rewards that are life affirming. It works without fail.


  1. Carol Arenz says

    I have a special saying ( so much so that a friend did it in needlepoint for me and it’s framed on my wall):


    Some days I would be 20 and other days I might be 98! So silly to focus on age! Better to focus on health, living happy and doing all kinds of activities ?

    • Thanks, Carol. You get it! The the power of age awareness in our culture is devastating. When you know your age and you get to age 90, you assume the game is pretty much over. If you never knew your chronological number, think about how much more interesting and hopeful the future would be! I love it that you have that message enthroned on your wall. It’s helping you get more out of life.

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