With the revolution of social media, it has become a way of life to receive a reminder of a friends birthday on Facebook. Just press the “1” to wish your friends a Happy Birthday on their special day. But the flipside is that there is nowhere to hide when it’s your turn.

Then every decade, there is a greater shock to the emotional system. You added another number to the tens place — the horror! Those who tell you they dont care are lying. Whether it is 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 or more, each carries with it a dread that the number you have carried for a decade is gone … forever. And it took years to get used to it. Now, you have a new age identity and with it, a new label. So what does it all mean?

Some say that getting old is for the young. But dont kid yourself — I have listened to many newly minted 20-year-olds bemoan their views of the dreaded next step. The decision of what to do next is no longer the single question, “Where do I go to college?” Questions arise about a career, work or professional school — not to mention the increasing complexity of social relationships, marriage and children. The word commitment comes to mind. Or on the other extreme, there is the period in your life when the world decides you are too old to do what you have been doing for your entire career. Life starts to take back some of the things it has given. What then?

How old is old anyway? To me, old is anyone that is fifteen years older than I am. But then again, I remember asking my grandmother who she was rooming with during a hospital stay. Her answer, “Some old lady,” who by the way was ten years her junior. Perhaps old is anyone but us.

Regardless, it causes each of us to look back on the past and look forward to the future. Have we accomplished what we set out to do? Do we need to change direction? No matter what your definition of success is, one rarely fully reaches it. Are we happy? What does that mean? Jean Paul Sartre would have loved Peggy Lees haunting song, “Is That All There Is My Friends.”

Have you ever thought, if only I could go back with what I know today and talk to myself when I was 10 years younger? You might say something like, “Self, what are you thinking? That makes no sense.” Well, that opportunity exists every decade because it is never too early or too late to change direction. We can always make new choices. If you do it right, someday you might look back and give yourself a high five.

I attended my father’s retirement lunch — he was 81 years old, there was standing room only and everyone was sobbing. A hand full of years later, he died. I sat next to his bed and thought that it didnt matter how rich he was, or how tall or how thin or any of the obsessions we carry with such importance. It only mattered how the people he had touched in his life felt about him. Upon his death, at nearly 87, it only mattered that people wanted more time with him and that he would be missed greatly. It only mattered to me that my heart ached because I couldnt hear his voice anymore. That was his legacy.

I recently got together for drinks with a group of eight of my former Georgetown classmates. As it typically goes, we were catching up on our lives and regaling the past. Then it dawned on me. These are people I have known for — dare I say it — forty-two years. Humans are herding animals that look to gather with those who share a common bond. I believe the word is “community.” The Georgetown community is a powerful one; witness by the fact that my classmates and I still want to catch up after all these years. Its truly a gift.

But to continue with Peggy Lee’s song, “If thats all there is, then lets keep dancing and break out the booze and have a ball.” Sure, you should celebrate your life with friends and family that love you. After all, you are impacting them all the time simply by living.

But why stop there? With the right attitude, you can impact others while growing yourself, no matter how young or old you are. Never stop building your network of people. Expand your contacts and reach out. But remember, they are not just a name that appears among your Facebook friends, or in Microsoft Outlook or on LinkedIn, but a human network. You have to care.

So set some goals for the next 10 years and think about what you would say to yourself when you look back. Whether you realize it or not, you are building your legacy every day. What would you like it to be?

 

Tom Bianco graduated from the Georgetown School of Business in 1977. He is married to his much younger wife, Molly, and is the Father of Nicholas, age 11, and Sabrina, age 6.

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