I woke up in Oklahoma City today to kick-off the next five-city swing of my 30-city Age of Disruption Tour. I will perform in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston before the week is finished.
The truth is I’m tired. But not from my travels. I’m tired of struggling to negate a negative.
I live — we all live — in a deeply ageist culture. Those of us who see, feel and believe in a positive vision of aging have directed too much of our precious time and energy to the proposition that “aging really isn’t all that bad.”
Our culture tells us that the virtues of youth will always reign supreme and that aging is and must always be equal to decline. Looking back at my career, I have spent too much time insisting that it really isn’t all that bad if we all just look at the bright side!
All the while, advocates like myself are encouraged to keep the word “aging” out of the titles of our books. We are told that we must accommodate ageist bigotry if we want to ever get mainstream media coverage. We can challenge the mass institutionalization of the elders, but only if we are nice about it and avoid pointing out that people fear nursing homes more than they fear death. We can suggest that the problems our society faces are due mainly to our extreme (perhaps insane is a better word) devotion to youth and the false virtue of “independence.” But if we do so we are expected to keep our voices down, to be polite, to be deferential.
Yeah, I am done with that.
For the past year I have been barnstorming the country advocating for the virtues of aging, on their own terms. I am loud. I am proud. In the words of AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins (a real firecracker of a pro-aging advocate), I am heeding her call to “Disrupt Aging.” I am traveling, speaking, giving interviews and performing as if aging was life’s most dangerous game. Pro football? Piff. Pro hockey? Whatever. Aging is tough. Aging changes people and it changes the world we inhabit. Aging is a disruptive force and needs to be treated as such.
One more thing.
Every person over the age of 30 is well aware of the power of aging to change us but very few understand that we have the power to change aging. Yes, it is true that some very misguided people are making absurd promises of a thousand year life span and hinting at the possibility of human immortality. They believe that aging can be written out of our genome (though they never say how or when this might happen) and that our new longevity will be spent exclusively in the warm embrace of youth. In truth, there is no evidence that such a thing is possible.
I am talking about something entirely different. I see aging as a disruptive experience that we can change, guide and shape. I see aging as a revolutionary force for personal growth and cultural transformation. We can and we will reimagine this life phase. What is old will become new. We can assert a new mastery over the experience of aging. We can play life’s most dangerous game with gusto.
For me, the time for timid half measures, the time for euphemism and “so sorry please, don’t take offense” are done. I am embracing aging as disruptive force, as a source of creativity and insight, as a journey into the unknown.
This year I’m fighting to disrupt aging in 30 cities. Next year, I hope to visit 40. I hope you’ll join me for the Age of Disruption World Tour.