June 26, 2019
I’ve spoken to a lot of guys my age and, to a man, we’ve all shared the same observation when it comes to our careers: there’s no winding down.
The notion that things slow before they stop, we all agreed, does not apply to one’s professional life, at least not in today’s world. Whether spurred by technology, the economy or some mix of factors, the pressure to “deliver” is as great in your 50s and 60s as we experienced in our 30s and 40s. The result? Job-related stress is as strong as ever, layered on top of retirement planning and the challenges rising out of life events like weddings and college tuition.
What’s a guy to do? How best does a 50- or 60-something man manage the overlapping stress of career and life? Are there any strategies from our 30s and 40s that still work?
For me, there are indeed strategies that I turned to as a young man which I still rely on today, perhaps more than ever! As a younger man I experienced firsthand how diet and exercise can serve as an antidote to the stress and adversity life brings.
Initially finding exercise as a defense mechanism to combat life’s battles, I’ve grown to appreciate the benefits of diet and exercise, discovering how it can help you look, feel and sleep better. For me, these benefits still create an urge to be socially active and remain competitive professionally. Outcomes I’ve come to appreciate increasingly with age.
In my case, the strategies emerged as a 40-year-old during a decade as a single dad. Post-marriage one and with a short overlap with marriage two, the boys were living with me full-time. My oldest was in seventh grade, my younger son in second. It was filled with both deep love and challenge. Back-to-school nights, packing lunches, homework and school sports consumed my world, which I also had to juggle with my job. Overall, it was tough but we made it work as a family.
Parenthood, particularly at the level of engagement I was at, has a way of putting life in perspective. When your son gets sick all over you in a crowded movie theater, or you get a call at work from the school nurse that your boy’s faucet-like bloody nose has erupted again, you deal with it. When you hear that the wheel of your teenage son’s car almost came off on a major highway as he returned home from a trip to visit his girlfriend, again, you deal with it.
As all parents know, you handle it swiftly and responsively but you take it in stride, knowing that it’s all part of being a parent. Yes, suddenly, the small stuff seems so insignificant and you focus like a laser on the big picture and the long-term. Sound familiar? The experience served as my “why” for developing a healthy lifestyle. I wanted to be there for my boys like nobody’s business.
So, how do we manage stress in our 50s and beyond? The experts will tell you that it starts with diet, exercise and sleep. In a previous column for PhillyVoice, I listed the U.S. minimum requirements for diet and exercise: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and 30 minutes or more of exercise 5 times per week. As for sleep, the consensus seems to be 7 to 9 hours.
But there’s more you can do to fight stress. Kerri-Ann Jennings offers the following ideas: reduce caffeine, avoid procrastination, learn to say no, be optimistic and try practicing mindfulness and yoga. To these, I’ll add my late father’s sage advice – have fun!
Yes, there’s an old expression that life doesn’t get any easier. The older I get the more I see the wisdom in this saying. Nevertheless, I like to think that the older I get the more tools I discover to make life fulfilling and incredibly meaningful. And yes, this includes my career where I’m feeling more invigorated than ever. Bring it on!
Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50."