Best-selling author, Nigel Marsh, has decided the term ‘old age’ needs a rebrand

We recently sat down with best-selling author Nigel Marsh to discuss his new book Smart, Stupid & Sixty, and how the term 'old age' needs a rebrand.

WORDS: Carla Caruso

Sydney adman Nigel Marsh is the best-selling author of 2005’s Fat, Forty and Fired, presenter of one of the most-watched TED talks outside of the US, and creator of the award-winning Five Of My Life podcast. 

This year, he’s staring down the barrel of turning 60, and has decided that the term, old age, needs a rebrand. 

Smart, Stupid & Sixty is Marsh’s hilarious, thought-provoking, and poignant account of entering what he has dubbed the ‘third trimester’ of life. We recently chatted to him.

Why did ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’ fit well for your latest book title?

‘Smart’ because life teaches you how to live it. After 58-and-a-half years on this planet, you tend to know more than after 28. 

Bringing up four children, running a number of companies, maintaining a healthy marriage for 30 years, death of loved ones and all the other things like [creating] Earth Hour, The Sydney Skinny [nude ocean swim] and The Five Of My Life inevitably involves valuable learning on multiple fronts. However, having said that, ‘stupid’ fits equally well as there is always more to learn. And mistakes made. 

All of us are flawed and making it up as we go along, whether we admit it or not. Life would be so boring if we knew everything or were always right. I love the idea of the power of paradox. We are all part smart and part stupid—definitely including me—and I wanted the title to reflect that. 

I’m very lucky to be able to say that, as I approach 60, I have never felt happier—despite all the inevitable downsides of ageing that I detail in the book.

In your TED Talk on work-life balance, you said too many people early on say, “I’ll have a life when I retire.” How is your sense of balance and time going now? 

I have to be careful how I express this—and to whom. Because I feel I have perfect balance. Not the perfect life or no problems but perfect balance as I define it. 

I work on the things I want to and spend time with the people I want to. That doesn’t mean I have everything I want. But one of my important beliefs is that an essential part of happiness is NOT having a number of things you dearly desire. Same with my sense of time. 

I know I am on my third trimester and the years allotted to me are running out. And that is fine. If I were to be told I only had weeks left to live, I would be mightily peed off, but at the same time, I would also have no regrets. I was very lucky to have a wake-up call at 40, and since have ‘lived consciously’, so no complaints from me.

What did you used to think life at nearly 60 would be like? What is it actually like? 

I’m embarrassed to say, when I was young, I never gave it any thought. Which is a key message of my book. We should think ahead to our third trimester so we can make the most of it. 

I’m very lucky to be able to say that, as I approach 60, I have never felt happier—despite all the inevitable downsides of ageing that I detail in the book.

How do you intend to ‘enjoy’ your third trimester, rather than just ‘extend’ it? What do you see yourself doing in your seventies and eighties?

By ‘deciding, not sliding’. I choose to live mindfully and passionately. I see myself doing The Five Of My Life regularly until I die, writing Slim, Sexy and Seventy, and then Eager, Enthusiastic and Eighty, being involved in my kids’ lives, travelling, contributing to my local community, celebrating my 50th wedding anniversary, and embracing the glorious uncertainty involved when you decide to drink from the cup of life with both hands.

Which interview on your The Five of My Life podcast has had the most impact on you? And which has been the most surprising?

[Australian psychologist] Hugh Mackay was so impactful when he spoke about the courage, and benefit, of proper listening. Such wise and helpful words. It’s amazing what the Five Of My Life format can reveal. It’s designed to be both entertaining and enlightening and Hugh managed to be impressively both. 

He also had an impact—and this is relevant to my book’s theme—because of the example he sets of having achieved so much in his own third trimester. He is now over 80 years old and still going very strong.

[The Biggest Loser trainer] Steve Willis was the most surprising as I would never have predicted that ‘Commando Steve’ would talk so eloquently about the wonderful Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. A useful reminder that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. 

He might appear on reality TV, but he was insightful, thought-provoking, and moving when talking about his love for the man. Fascinating.

I know I am on my third trimester and the years allotted to me are running out. And that is fine. If I were to be told I only had weeks left to live, I would be mightily peed off, but at the same time, I would also have no regrets.

As the founder of The Sydney Skinny, what do you consider the benefits of an ocean dip?

I call it ‘Dr Bronte’; Bronte is my local beach in Sydney where I swim. I have never gone for an ocean swim, however cold, and regretted it. 

It invigorates you, gets you connected to nature, and provides the perfect ‘wiping clean of the slate/fresh start’ moment. 

You are a new person when you walk out of the water onto the sand—especially if you’ve just swum a kilometre, stark naked, with a thousand other people.

Finally, what happened with the TV deal for your first book, Fat, Forty and Fired?

Tumbleweed! It’s currently out of contract, so if anyone reading this has an interest, please do get in touch…


Smart, Stupid & Sixty (Penguin)

RRP $34.99

nigelmarsh.com

@nigel_marsh

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