It is 6 A.M. The sun is rising, casting a faint glow on the Hudson River. Dogs and their owners are out in great numbers, and I am up on a picnic table in Riverside Park doing push-ups, the sweat pouring off my brow as I listen to former fireman Eric Torres counting, “18, 19, 20, 21, finished.” This is the seventh exercise in this part of the Torres-supervised circuit training, interspersed with 400 yard dashes. “Geez, I haven’t worked this hard since pre-season training for high school football,” I muse as I pant vociferously, having completed the sprint, knowing that there is more torture ahead.
Am I completely crazy? No, I could not be happier. I am 58 years old and I want to get old trying to defy the odds. I want to keep playing tennis at a high level. I need to be able to travel extensively, perform as a CEO, be a father and husband. When I exercise, I sleep at night, I have a Zen attitude at work and am fun to be around. In short, I am trying to Get Old the best way that I can, and for me that means pushing myself and testing my limits. I also do crazy things, like walking the five miles from office to home in a snowstorm last year, to see whether I could do it.
We are working with Pfizer on Get Old – a program developed to support candid conversations about aging and living better. We want to help inspire people of all ages to redefine what it means to Get Old, to break self-imposed and societal limitations, and discover a better quality of life at every age.
And there’s work to do: A 1,000-person survey commissioned by Pfizer (with partner Generations United), found that less than half feel very comfortable about getting old or very comfortable about their future. Forty percent feel being old is something to fear because of potential health problems and financial concerns. At around age 40, people start putting physical health above independence, wisdom and wealth. Yet most people don’t feel proud of their current physical health.
But I think aging is more than about the loss of physical abilities. It is also a gradual narrowing of interests and mental ability. My advice is to continue to challenge yourself by taking on new authors (I read Anna Karenina last summer, partly to prove that I could) or languages (my Hebrew is better than when I had my Bar Mitzvah—though, admittedly a very low bar). I have begun to go to art museums and even to enjoy the art, no longer limiting my time to the usual speedy one-hour maximum tour.
At work, I have tried to lead our initiative into paid content. I have used long-standing connections with editors to get into discussions with media people often 30 years younger. I find this hugely stimulating and important to my continued relevance. At the same time, I run a few of our client assignments to make certain that I get the same stress as any of our other account people.
I refuse to color my now-nearly gray locks. I am happy to have hair; a blessing given the genetics of the Edelman clan. And I won’t change out of my Brooks Brothers shirts, which despite the new ownership still hang rather loosely on the frame.
Some part of aging is not in your control. I would just as soon as skipped the prostate cancer interlude of five years ago, which initially scared me about possible mortality, and later, additional side effects. I can tell you that addressing the problem head-on through candid conversations with my doctor and (for me) surgery, then getting on with the rest of my life, was the most important lesson about what matters. You work hard but you cannot live to work. You live to love, to laugh, to give back and to bring up the next generation with strong values.
I am now in my 36th year at the company. Given the example set forth by my father, who died in January with his boots on still perusing the monthly financial statements, I am only halfway through my Edelman career. A note to my three daughters whom I hope will succeed me: your dad intends to be around for a while.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.