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Whenever I hear someone has jumped aboard the cosmetic surgery train, I wonder if they're feeling vulnerable to the "staying competitive" angst that afflicts a lot of people over 40. If I thought a shot of collagen right in the kisser would keep me forever dewy, well, I might put down my placards of protest.

But I know better.

There are only two ways to stay competitive in a competitive world: Attitude and Image. And they cannot be separated. You need to master both.

Attitude is the single most important predictor of someone's long-term success. The reason we howl when 'Saturday Night Live' features " Debbie Downer" is because we all know someone who can find the run in the back of your stocking. And no matter how smart or competent Debbie may be, in the long term she's going to be derailed by her negative attitude. No one wants to work, play, collaborate, conspire with or defend the person who sucks the oxygen out of the room.

Attitude transcends age. I know people in their early 80s who are still on fire. They're not landing – they're taking off – getting their highs out of stimulating conversation, new friendships, out of the way restaurants. The wrinkles and the creaky knees are irrelevant to the zest and curiosity they bring to every occasion. Their great attitude is like espresso at three o'clock in the afternoon – a jolt of energy, a marvelous pick-me-up, a moment to savor.

Your image can help you stay competitive. Packaging and polish matter. Forget Botox – nothing looks older than someone pickled in aspic. You need to stay abreast of new colors and silhouettes and appropriate the pieces that add punch to your wardrobe. And make sure your accessories are top notch and of the moment. Unless you're ironic, floodwater length chinos and oversized eyeglass frames with the bifocal line clearly visible should be tossed.

Pride yourself on being hip to the zeitgeist – master text-messaging, get into shape, fall in love with Feist. Stay curious about the world by reading a daily newspaper, listening to NPR and reading a blog on the Huffington Post. Study Chinese. Or take a 25 year old to lunch and let him/her challenge all of your assumptions about life, careers, politics and relationships.

I may be 54 but I'm playing it 34. And I'm in this to win.

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© Copyright 2008 Ellen Lubin-Sherman

 

 
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