We asked author of 'Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel', Val Grubb about her view on an intergenerational society. She has traveled more than 300,000 miles (and counting!) with her 85-year-old mother in the past twenty years. Her essay for The Age of No Retirement is open and honest (and very funny) and is a joy to read. Val's energy is contagious and her views on the benefits of an all age focus make complete sense, so much so, you ask yourself why don't we all going intergenerational.

Words by Val Grubb. 

Hi, I’m Valerie Grubb and I turned 50 in December of last year.

Turning 50 is a bit of a milestone in terms of # of years (how in the hell did I make it to 50?!?!), but attitude wise, I think I’m much better off as I continue to age. I feel myself not getting as wrapped up in drama as I used to because I just don’t care. Now, that may have something to do with moving from NYC to New Orleans as NOLA is a much more laid-back environment. That said, I also feel myself disengaging from anyone who I feel has a lot of drama in their life. I just don’t have the patience to put up with it anymore. That has been refreshing and actually lightens the mental load.

"I think it’s alright for age to define us. It's when we start to make negative judgments about someone based on their age — they’re too old, they’re too young — that it is a problem and we limit what we can accomplish in the office or as a human race."

Val Grubb.

Juneau, Alaska. Mom and I LOVE a helicopter ride! We went to Alaska with my brother Eric, also in this picture.

I do ask myself if I’ve accomplished all that I want to achieve – something I didn’t do in my 40s. My answer is NO (always more to do) which then brings with it questions about “is it too late?” Now I don’t have illusions of being a prima ballerina, but age be damned, if I want to take ballet lessons, I can. There is a part of me that pushes myself harder because of all the things I still want to accomplish (and a sense that my 50s is the time to do it). I think aging has helped me to FOCUS on what I really want both in my life as well as what I want to get done in my lifetime which is goodness.

If I have to think about how old I am today, and if it affects the way people think of me, I would say, it certainly did in NYC. Manhattan has a “younger is better” feel to it where New Orleans has a much wider range of ages still very active in the community. In fact, in NOLA, I’m the “youngster” in organisations in which I participate! It’s kinda strange (and kinda awesome!).

At 50, I don’t have the feel or perception that companies won’t hire me because of my age, however, I have had friends who are older than me that feel they have experienced ageism. I consult on Human Resources issues, conduct training and lead one-on-one coaching and I actually think I’m in my peak years right now because of my experience. I can speak to what it means to lead because I’ve done it. As I mentioned previously, I have seen ageism affect colleagues in their 60s which concerns me a bit. It also makes me think about what I want to be doing in ten years – will I age out of training/coaching? Definitely something I’m thinking about and plotting. 

"I have seen ageism affect colleagues in their 60s which concerns me a bit. It also makes me think about what I want to be doing in ten years – will I age out of training/coaching? Definitely something I’m thinking about and plotting."

Val Grubb.

Australia. Animals LOVE mom!

Money and my ageing mother are certainly my biggest stressors. Money just from the standpoint of have I saved enough and the realisation that my 50s are my peak earning years. Have I set myself up to earn (and save) all that I can? I think that answer is NO at the moment, so I’m trying to figure out my next move to maximise both (earning/saving).

My mom's ageing takes a toll as well. I love her SO MUCH and I just hate to see her getting older and feeble. She has a fantastic attitude which is great, but it just sucks that her body is giving out while her mind is still raring to go! I pretty much manage her life (property, health, finances, etc.) which adds a bit of strain. But knock wood, my mom is doing pretty fantastic for 86, soon to be 87!

Oh my, so many things make me happy. This is tough to narrow down for me as I really do love life. Here are just a few of the many things that give me much happiness. I love my family immensely: my mom (87 in July), my (older) brother, sister-in-law and my 5-year old twin nieces. My nieces are ridiculously awesome – it’s incredible to see life through their eyes. I don’t have children and to see them learning new things and exploring life is just tremendous. I see them as much as I can along with my mother. The whole family takes at least one big trip a year (with smaller ones in between depending on availability, finances, etc.). It’s pretty awesome to hang together and yet we have an 80+ year age difference. It can be tough at times, but I think there is a lot of love across the board so we make it work (even when it’s challenging).

Cambodia. Mom LOVES riding on motorcycles! She says to this day that if she was 50 years younger, she would buy a Harley (Davidson). That’s my mom!

I moved to New Orleans in January 2016 and I am still enthralled with the City! I love exploring all the history, culture and richness the City has to offer.

I love writing! I have two nonfiction books under my belt and I am starting my third later this year. I’m tackling a fiction book this time which is quite exciting! I love to push myself and continue to acquire new skills so this will be fun at the same time that it’s challenging.

I love the freedom my job allows. I’ve been on my own for almost 9 years and it’s been life-changing. Don’t get me wrong, it can be tough as I don’t have a corporate umbrella to rely on, but it’s been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Especially with taking care of my mother – I could never take the time off I need to be with her and my nieces so my job has been an incredible source of happiness while also being at times stressful (definitely a double-sided coin!). 

Thailand. Mom and the baby elephant.

I think I’ve learned to appreciate things more as I’ve aged. That and lighten up on myself. So I don’t have the perfect body – I’m damn fun to be around and that counts WAY more in my book!

A shared challenge across all ages? Confidence in ourselves. We always think everyone is looking at us and judging us which undermines our confidence. Now, I’m sure some people are, but as I’ve gotten older, I feel like most people are really just thinking about themselves so just live your life as you want to live it and be happy! As I said previously, I’ve also cut out the drama which can lead to feelings of self-doubt (particularly drama from certain people as they are typically either comparing their life to someone else or just creating negativity in general which can undermine your confidence). It’s amazing at how your life improves by just focusing on the good in the world vs. fixating on the negative that happens. Anyway, I digress…let me get back on topic.

I think feelings of stress are pretty rampant at any age. Now, I definitely was much more stressed when I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s. Don’t get me wrong, I still stress over certain issues, but thankfully it’s less about the small stuff. I also think we all want the same things out of life – to love and be loved, to contribute and to be appreciated for our contributions, to have friends who care and understand us, to have the ability to pay our bills and have $ for some fun. When those things are missing, I think you’re stressed no matter what age you are.

NYC. My dad was a pilot so my brother and I were practically born in the air. Next to motorcycles, mom also LOVES riding in helicopters! She came to visit me when I lived in NYC and we did a helicopter ride around Manhattan.It was AWESOME.

I also think we all want to feel relevant. That we matter. I saw that when I left senior positions in corporate America to start my own company – several people who I thought were friends in addition to business associates no longer took my calls because I was no longer relevant to them. I’ve also witnessed that first hand as people age: my roommate in NYC was in her 70s and people would just ignore her as if she wasn’t there. It was pretty awful and part of why I didn’t want to stay in NYC. I want to be in a City that still sees my relevance as I continue to age (and New Orleans fits the bill).  

I enjoy hearing perspectives on how to accomplish projects from older people. I know this annoys some people, but I like hearing what’s been done previously so I can avoid the same pitfalls. Now this doesn’t always work with my mother – at times there can be this familial history playing out (even now) whereby we (as children) think we know more than our parents! This recently played out (much to my chagrin). Mom won’t place bills in the mailbox as she read somewhere that thieves are stealing the checks and cashing them. I’ve guffawed at this suggestion (and done several eye rolls), only to have my rent check stolen from the mailbox at my apartment complex and cashed by someone other than my landlord! It took me almost 4 months to get the money back. Needless to say, I’m not laughing (and ignoring) mom anymore!

That said, typically I like to hear the perspectives of people who have “been there, done that” so I can do it quicker or better this time around! I did learn from my dad that saving is really critical. He passed away quite unexpectedly and it was only his savvy saving and retirement plan that has allowed mom to continue to be independent and do the things she wants to do now and for the rest of her life. My dad was one smart cat. 

Orlando. Mom and Daffy Duck! She was a HIT in the electric wheelchair although it was almost stripped away from her for SPEEDING. My mom is a SPEED DEMON behind the wheel of anything that moves – even an electric wheelchair.

In an office environment, I look to those with more experience to teach me how to lead and inspire others (of any age). I also look to those with more experience to improve my technical skills (communication, finance/budgeting, HR knowledge, etc.).

Technology is what you can learn from younger people, if you ask me – my 5-year old nieces show me stuff on my phone all the time. Social media - I love all that stuff, but damn if I can figure it out half the time! I like having someone who can show me the in’s and out’s. I also like learning what is relevant to the younger generation. Community service as an example. That was a box you checked on your college application (and you did as little as possible in order to tick it off). Millennial and GenZ really care about the environment and social issues. It’s interesting to hear their perspective on why it’s important and how to get involved.

I also love the fresh approach to tackling issues. I think it’s really refreshing and always a reminder to me to not get mired in “what’s been done in the past” but instead think “how can we get this done this time around.” I used to teach that to my more experienced employees when I was a VP, Operations at Oxygen Media – if a younger employee proposes an idea that we’ve tried before, don’t have a “been there, done that” dismissive attitude. Instead, use this as an opportunity for the younger person to re-examine what we did in hopes of finding a successful conclusion. After all, if we thought it was a brilliant idea before yet ran into problems, it’s STILL a great idea – just let a new set of eyes look at it again! I always liken this scenario to Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb. Numerous sites say it took him 10,000 tries before he succeeded. Now I’m sure he heard along the way that it couldn’t be done, but he never let those negative thoughts deter him and instead he used each try as an opportunity to learn and grow. More seasoned employees need to not be intimidated by asking for help from the younger generation. I think that is especially important for innovation and creativity in the workplace.

I actually think we’re getting better albeit slowly. Maybe not so much corporate America, but I think in life it’s not unusual to see older adults accomplishing things that once may have been reserved for the younger crowd. 

I think it’s alright for age to define us – someone who is more seasoned is a good source of data and experiences. Someone who has less experience doesn’t have the baggage I have and can therefore tackle problems with a fresh eye. I think it’s when we start to make negative judgments about someone based on their age (they’re too old, they’re too young) that it is a problem and we limit what we can accomplish (whether in the office or as a human race).

You can find out more on Val and her book, Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Ageing Parents through Travel, at www.travelwithagingparents.com

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