Why it’s a great time to be over 50

My latest article: Why it’s a Great Time to be Over 50. 

From Outlook by the Bay magazine.


It’s Never too Late for This

From Outlook by the Bay, summer 2011

By Terry Portis

I am never quite sure how to respond when someone tells me, “The time for that has passed me by.” If I agree, is that insulting, questioning the person’s abilities? If I disagree, am I questioning whether or not a person knows their own life? Usually, I just sort of nod, but not too enthusiastically. The truth is that sometimes people give up too soon and too easily. Dreams and ideals that flourished in our 20s are crushed by the next 30 or 40 years of working too hard and too long on things we are not that thrilled by. There are two things in particular I want to focus on that are very often pushed aside in the noise and tumult in our lives. Those are broken relationships and daring to do new things.


We don’t remember when we stopped talking to our friend or family member. At one point we couldn’t imagine going a week or a day without checking in with them. The relation ship meant something, and life was better because that person was in it. Something happened  a disagreement, unkind words, hurt feelings  and the relationship seems lost forever.

David McCullough’s excellent book on the life of John Adams gives some fascinating details on the relation ship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their ability to work closely together and their mutual respect was known throughout the United States and Europe. Differing ideas about the French Revolution would greatly dam age their relationship. Their published writings on the topic were polar oppo sites, and they publicly criticized each other. This dispute and open criticism led to two decades when they did not speak to each other. It appeared the relationship was over.

At the urging of Benjamin Rush, a physician and fellow co signer of the Declaration of Independence, they began to correspond on a regular basis. They continued to write for 14 years before they both died on the same day in 1826. Rush simply remind ed them that they had shared some remarkable hardships and successes together, and that these were more important than the conflict that had driven them apart.


Three years ago a 76- year- old man decided to fulflll his dream, and climbed Mount Everest. Given the grueling training and the danger involved, this is remarkable. I am sure people told him that the time for climbing Mount Everest had passed him by, and most people would have nodded in agreement.

We have many wonderful examples of people who have done something daring later in life. At 77 an artist by the name of Grandma Moses decided to start painting. At 65 Winston Churchill became prime minister of England and dared to lead his country in a five year fight for its freedom. Albert Schweitzer ran a hospital in Af rica when he was 89, at 82 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe finished writing his famous Faust, and John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at 77. So, today, the time is ripe to pick up the phone, or a paint brush, because it’s never too late!

Dr. Terry Portis is director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College. He holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and can be reached at tdportis.aacc.edu 

Understanding the Psychology of the Kiss-Up/Kick-Down Leader

In the field of organizational psychology, this type of leader was first recognized in the 1950’s. You may find yourself working for or with this type of person, and yet no one else in authority seems to recognize it.

The KU/KD person is very charming and perhaps adored by those who are friends or equal-status colleagues. They go out of their way to compliment their peers or those they view as in higher positions. However, if you are a person who is seen as inferior or who has a lower position in a company or organization, watch out! You will be subject to a barrage of negativity and blame you may have never experienced before.

The KU/KD person was likely raised by an authoritarian parent, thus molding how they interact with fellow people in authority, and those who are under their authority. Unfortunately, the KU/KD person also gravitates towards positions of authority, thus spreading their influence.

Symptoms of this Personality

In my own person experience, I find this listing of symptoms of the KU/KD person right on target.

  • Mistakes are concealed
  • People are under constant stress
  • Power is based on fear, not respect
  • Information is withheld and distorted
  • Information flow is primarily from top down
  • Behavior is forced; does not come naturally
  • Behavior is not consistent with true feelings, which adds to the stress
  • Conflicts and problems are blamed on the dependent’s “poor attitudes” and “character flaws.”

(From the Authoritarian Personality study, 1950, UC-Berkley).

What can you do?

Unfortunately, this is a type of personality disorder, and there is little you can do when working for or with this type of person. If you are working for this person long term, you need to leave the organization or company as soon as possible. Their negativity will be extremely stressful and ultimately do damage to your career.

Do not think you can convince others in authority who are this person’s peers or supervisors that this person is negative and destructive. They are charismatic and have spent years developing the dedicated and “wonderful” persona.

Do not think you can talk to the person and ask them to consider changing. They do not allow anyone to challenge them, and they despise admitting mistakes. In fact, if you are questioning their decisions or behavior, they have already put a plan in motion to whisper about your own competency or value to the company or organization.


It is an old cliche, but one I have thought about recently: “Problems will make you bitter, or make you better.” Some of the people I have been most impressed by in my life have been people who have gone through unimaginable hardship and yet seem to be an inspiration to people around them. This is not to say they do not have bad days, have not cried out to God in the middle of the night, or have not wished that they did not have to deal with significant difficulties in their lives.

One person who comes to mind is a young woman I knew who had a stroke when she was 21. The woman was a bright college student, taught children’s Sunday School, and was a model of doing things the right way. If anyone had a reason to ask “why me,” it was her. The stroke left her partially paralyzed with a speech impediment and difficulties in walking. I was brought in as a consultant to help design a tutoring program to help her learn to read again. One of her happiest days was when she had her reading to a level where she could teach children’s Sunday School again. The children did not seem to mind her various disabilities. She was a shining example of grace and encouragement to everyone who knew her.

Another gentleman I knew was injured as a college student. One night he and some friends went out on the athletic fields to see if they could make it over the high jump. He landed wrong, broke his neck, and would spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair. He was a quiet man, who went on to get his master’s degree and worked helping other people with disabilities find meaningful jobs.

Contrast these two with those who get “stuck” with the same kinds of questions over and over. “Why me,” “What is wrong that this happened,” and “I lived such a good life.” It is not wrong to think all of these things, it is just not a good place to live day after day.

In the end, some people decide to come out of tough problems and terrible situations with a glow about them. They get not just better, but bigger in the eyes of other people. Others get stuck in bitterness, and they begin to shrink, smaller and smaller into their homes filled with haunted isolation.

What is “work” really, and which career should you choose?

I was listening to a talk given by Tim Keller called “Work.” He made a lot of great points, but one stuck with me. In the past, people did work for the sake of the work, the work itself was its own reward. In our society, people work so they can have money (or status), in order to do something else, which is really what they want to do.

When I talk to students about career planning, I ask them to imagine a dream scenario. A wealthy businessman has agreed to give you an annual salary of $500,000 per year for the rest of your life. However, you must work 35 hours a week doing some job. You may spend the necessary time getting training or more education if you need to. What job would you pick? Whatever that job is that you just picked, is the career you should pursue.

Yo Mama

Like many people, I subscribe to a wide array of feeds from various discussion boards and blogs related to history, technology, theology and education. I have really been struck lately at how the message board conversations or blog comments often deteriorate into using profanities or basically saying what was said in elementary school “well, yo’ mama.”

I guess the alternative would be for the person to say, “Honestly, my ability to form a coherent opinion and articulate it is so limited I will have to defer to you on this one.” Or, perhaps we would like to read, at least once, “Your thoughtful opinion piece runs contrary to what I think, and if I could, I would have some witty reply or at least use vocabulary words that have more than four letters.”

In the end, I hope that those who write insightful blogs, or interesting ideas on message boards, will not be discouraged by the trolls.