6 A.M.

Let’s Get Old



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.

  • Cathy Barry-Ipema

    Love it! When I joined Edelman nearly a year ago after 30 years in
    health care public relations on the provider side, my family and friends were
    baffled. In reality, they thought I was crazy. While many begin thinking about
    retiring, slowing down, or coasting, I was not ready to hang it up or check out.
    In reality, I was ready for a new challenge. I thought joining Edelman would be
    the perfect next step in my career path (yes, you can still have a career path
    after 50).

    I can honestly say that the move is one of the best things I have
    ever done. Working in a new environment with smart, fun people is stimulating
    and totally energizing – I am learning so much and, hopefully, sharing a little
    bit of what I have learned. Unfortunately, I can no longer run in 5Ks, 10Ks and
    will just have to be content that my one and only Chicago marathon will be my
    last — that damn left knee — spin, pilates and the elliptical will have to do.

    Understanding our limitations is part of life, and with every door
    that closes, another one opens. Isn’t that what makes life exhilarating,
    interesting and surprising? So, thank you to the Edelman team of Kym, Peter and
    Laura for opening the Edelman door – and thank you Paula for showing me to the
    door. I am having the time of my life. Realizing that there are more doors to
    open and new challenges to take on is exciting. As a golfer, I cannot help but
    quote Ben Hogan, “As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the
    roses, for you only get to play one round.” I want my round to count. Oh yeah,
    I also like knowing that there is someone older than me to try and keep up with.
    Thanks Richard!

  • A mix of candor, personal reflection, and sage wisdom. Priceless.

  • Tom Mattia

    Just months shy of completing my 65th orbit of the sun, I can tell you life never gets old. There is always something new to explore – or old to re-imagine. We look forward to hosting you in China next month, Richard, but I can assure you you will not be sprinting in Beijing!

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