Knowing When to Retire

I am a passionate advocate for the value and worth of older people, both male and female. Some of my advocacy stems from being an older person myself (obvs), but a large part comes from my belief, backed by evidence, that living in an ageist society has very negative consequences and even kills people before their time. A large part of my motivation in starting Look Fabulous Forever in my mid-sixties was the fact that most beauty brands would only engage with me via an ‘anti-ageing’ message. Makeup is designed to be an enhancement to our looks, but from the age that I started to have lines and wrinkles, I noticed that I was no longer the target for marketing campaigns about gorgeous lipsticks or vibrant eye shadows, but only for creams to erase the ‘seven signs of ageing’ I was assumed to be bothered about.


I felt this to be profoundly ageist and I wanted to confront it head-on. Out of this desire Look Fabulous Forever was born. 


Since then there have been some encouraging developments especially recently with the routine inclusion of older people in television advertisements who appear to be leading normal lives. However, there is something huge happening in the world this year which is bringing out all the very worst attitudes and tropes about ageing and is also the butt of endless ageist jokes, most in very poor taste. 


I am talking about the campaign to elect the next President of the United States, a contest which is most likely to be fought between a man who would be 82 at the time of his inauguration if elected, and another who would be 78. Please don’t worry that I am going to debate the relative merits of either man for such a pivotal and powerful role in the world, what interests me is the culture in which these two have become the candidates, and how they are being portrayed, because I think that both are damaging to all of us of above a certain age.


I think it is bewildering to most of us who don’t live in the USA how a country of almost 332 million people with a median age of 38.9 years has come to be governed by such a powerful gerontocracy which has almost inevitably produced the two candidates currently vying for the top job. The facts are relatively stark and may surprise you. 


You may know that there are two chambers in the American political system, the Senate and the House of Representatives or Congress. Every state of whatever size sends two senators each to represent their interests, meaning that there are 100 in all serving a term of 6 years. The median age in the US Senate is 65. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer is 73 and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell is 81. McConnell’s most senior colleague, Chuck Grassley, who is 90, recently decided to run again to represent the state of Iowa in 2028. Which means he’s keeping his options open to stay in post until he is 101. Other notable high profile names are 82 year old Bernie Saunders, Vermont Senator and standard bearer of the US left and his sometime ally and former rival Elizabeth Warren who is 74. As you can see, neither Biden nor Trump is an outlier in a system in which power is significantly concentrated in the hands of the elderly.


At 58, the House of Representatives’ median age is slightly closer to America’s population as a whole. But it is still badly out of whack. Just 7 per cent of members of the US Congress are below the age of 40. So, what explains the grip that the older generation has on political power in the USA? Part of it is the comfort of incumbency. If, for various reasons, the Senator or Congressman or woman is difficult to eject, then they will stay put because the likelihood of challenge is low. The more venerable the figure, the bigger the reputational damage to the aspiring Brutus. Who is going to suggest to a politician like Biden who has served his country since he was first elected as a Senator for Delaware in 1972, and who has served as President since 2020, that he should step aside because of his age?


However, the issue of the advanced age of the two men who are vying to become US President, has become salient because both are showing signs of not being mentally or physically at the top of their game. I loathe ageism in any form, so I am really struggling with the conundrum that this poses. Both camps are actively promoting the idea that the other guy is suffering severe memory loss and physical limitations. Trump confuses Nicky Haley for Nancy Pelosi, Biden confuses President Macron for President Mitterand. Videos emerge of Biden falling over and of Trump finding it difficult to hold a glass and drink from it with shaking hands. And the message that older age is synonymous with frailty, weakness and mental confusion is constantly hammered home in a way that damages every other older person in subtle and not so subtle ways.


It seems to me that the USA has the worst of all possible worlds at the moment. A system that entrenches length and security of tenure over other considerations like different perspectives, fresh blood, new thinking, youthfulness and vigour, set within a wider culture that despises the appearance of older age (hence all those facelifts) and mocks the manifestation of its frailty (hence all those endless stereotyping jokes). 


Given that neither the system nor the culture is likely to change any time soon, the solution must lie with the individual’s acceptance that there comes a time when they should stand aside and let someone else do a better job. It is for very good reasons that airline pilots have to retire at 65. And I have some personal experience in a business context. 


I was born into a small family business consisting of my grandfather, mother, father and then my brother. My grandfather died in his early 60s, leaving my mum and dad in charge. They ran a successful operation together and then my brother joined the company and worked his way up over 20 years. My mother was still very much in control of all the finances when she died at the age of 67. At that point my father was 73, and it would have been better for everyone (except him) if he had retired at that point. Unfortunately for my brother, who was more than capable of taking over, my father refused to cede full control. Dad died seven years later, aged 80, and to say that he made my brother’s life difficult for those final years might be an understatement.


You may think that I am going to end this with an announcement that at 76 I have decided to retire from Look Fabulous Forever. But the reality is that I have gradually been retiring for the past five years or more. Having watched my father clinging onto control of ‘his’ business and refusing to accept his limitations, I made an early decision to do things differently. I was fortunate to have two very capable daughters, but if I hadn’t then I would have recruited the appropriate candidates to do their jobs. I no longer have any involvement or say in the day to day running of Look Fabulous Forever or Creative Cosmetics. The excellent teams of people at both companies are fully in control and I am more than happy to continue to be involved in a way that suits me down to the ground.


I have the best of all possible worlds of cherry picking what I do, being the ‘face’ and ‘voice’ of the brand which includes speaking to journalists, talking on various business platforms and making videos. I also get involved with others in suggesting and testing new products. Oh, and my greatest pleasure of all is writing this blog because every week it leads me to research all sorts of fascinating subjects and it brings me into a conversation with all sorts of interesting and wonderful people like you who engage with me both here and on social media.


So my question to both candidates for the American Presidency would be: “Are you really the very best person for this powerful and important job at this particular moment in history? Or would it be better for the world if you stood aside and allowed someone younger to assume all that power and the enormous responsibility that goes with it?”


I think we all know what their answer would be because they both remind me of my stubborn old dad. But at least he didn’t have the nuclear codes. 


Tricia x

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