We should use, not lose, our senior brain power

By Harold Mitchell

There's a lot of talk these days about work/life balance and I think we have mostly got it all wrong. Work is life and life is work. It's not a choice between the two - it's about choosing to be happy and positive no matter what we are doing or how old we are.

There's an old Zen Buddhist saying, "Before enlightenment - chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment - chop wood and carry water''.

My 92-year-old dad lives this literally. Last weekend he told me how happy he is that winter is approaching up in the mountains where he lives. It means that he can get out his trusty axe and split wood for the fire.

He's an expert and you need to be. The trick is to turn the axe head a millisecond before it hits the block of wood. Three kilos of fast-moving razor-sharp axe head in inexperienced hands can do a lot of damage. More than 80 years of log-splitting will probably ensure my dad makes 100.

Age is no barrier to him keeping the home fires burning by working each day.

The same is true for my once-a-year lunch partner, octogenarian Peter Clemenger, the former head of our greatest advertising agency. He is as active as ever and as sharp as my old man's axe.

As is emeritus professor Derek Denton, founder of the Florey Institute, one of the world's greatest neuroscience facilities and located here in Australia. At 88, he is overflowing with ideas that people all over the world are still listening to.

I had a cup of tea with him earlier this week and he told me about the latest experiments being undertaken by his research group, which includes brilliant scientists both here and in America. They are doing world-leading work on addiction, something that profoundly affects almost every aspect of our society.

Passing the so-called age of retirement does not mean that we have to enter the age of uselessness or even idleness.

Just have a look at the busy, creative and internationally important work of that great Australian Jim Wolfensohn. The former head of the World Bank is still on international boards and apart from his amazing business acumen, those who know Jim, marvel at the way he took up the cello at 51 - some 45 years after the brain cells were at their peak for picking up new things.

At an earlier time, as part of the organising group of the outstanding Alfred Deakin Lecture Series just on a decade ago, I sat listening to Baroness Susan Greenfield, who at 62 is still one of the world's leading neuroscientists. She explained the functioning of the brain very simply - "use it or lose it".

And that's the message for Australia - use the experienced brain power of our senior people or lose out on the essential ingredient that money and youth can't buy - wisdom.

Too often, we hear younger people saying ''he's too old'', and in the advertising and marketing industry it's commonplace for the jeans clad, sneaker-wearing, ponytailed hipsters to try to rely on raw youthfulness to get them through. Sure we need the youth but we also need the wisdom of age.

Some time ago I was a speaker at a conference in Sydney about China with the Chinese Minister for Propaganda and Bob Hawke. I felt like a youngster with a lot to learn as the 84-year-old former prime minister engaged with the 81-year-old Chinese leader, a member of the 18th Politburo Standing Committee. I can tell you without a doubt, Hawkie has not lost it.

So with ANZAC Day just passed, we must continue to be mindful of all of those who gave their lives for this country. We need to remember that the purpose of their great sacrifice was to enable us to use our freedom well. And in my book, that means understanding and accepting that life is work and service. By the way, you might remember that $428 haircut I got in New York. Well, it didn't last, I had to get another one last week!

Harold Mitchell is an executive director of Aegis.

Source:The Age

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