Do You Like Growing Older?
“You can learn to like almost anything that is good for you— learn to love the opportunity of living younger for longer!”
– Arlene R. Taylor PhD
That question was flung in my direction smack-dab in the middle of a presentation. Momentarily startled, I realized there is no simple yes or no answer to this question and was pretty certain it would be a mixed bag. Having never been asked that specific question before, and with such an emphasis on the word like, I figured it deserved some thought. “Let me ponder that for a while, and I’ll put something in writing—eventually,” I replied, continuing on with my presentation.
And I have eventually come up with some musings.
I’ve been fortunate to have several best friends. Still do. I myself was never one of my best friends, however. As I grow older I’m actually becoming my own best friend. That’s been a welcome surprise and nothing I ever heard discussed during my growing-up years. I know myself better than anyone else. After all, I’ve been hanging around with me my entire life, and I’m the only person who will be with me my entire life! During this process I am learning to be kinder toward myself and others, and far less critical of any of us. Human beings all have differing brains, and most are doing the best they can at the time with what they know—myself included. And when I come in contact with those who are not doing the best they can at the time with what they know, I know how to implement appropriate boundaries to minimize the negative impact of their behaviors. I find it is easier to sustain a positive mindset—knowing that it’s a choice and just takes practice.
As I am growing older I’ve stopped second-guessing myself and have given up worrying about the opinions of others. I’ve earned the right to be wrong—no one can know everything, after all—and am okay with saying ‘I don’t enough about that topic to comment on it—and I’ll look it up’ Occasionally I make a mistake on purpose just to remind myself that I’m human and that’s what humans do. Make mistakes. (Sometimes they even learn from them!) Life is so much less stressful this way. As one woman put it put it:
And whose business is it anyway if I choose to read a book on my Kindle or challenge my brain at Lumosity.com on my computer until 4 AM and then sleep until noon? It’s my business. I can dance with myself to those marvelous tunes of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s and, at the same time, if I wish to shed tears over a lost love I can do that as well.
I can walk the beach clad in a swimsuit that is stretched over a body whose parts are shifting. You know you have everything you had in your youth, but none of it is exactly in the same place. And I will plunge into the waves with abandon if I choose to do so, despite pitying glances from the Hollywood set. They too will grow older. Maybe.
I’ve stopped spending time being concerned about my memory. My brain has always been somewhat challenged by itty-bitty details related to topics of no interest to me whatsoever. Besides, some of the other things are just as well forgotten (e.g., the 16% I received on my high school trigonometry test, or the eighth-grade schoolmate who told me I was so stupid I’d never amount to anything at all, much less make any significant contribution in life). Intelligent memory can continue to improve over an entire life, so I concentrate on building those skills and on recalling the really important details related to health and longevity.
I’m honing my sense of spirituality, experiencing awe in a magnificent a green-flash sunset or in a child’s delight over a tiny kitten, in the spine-tingling thrill of glorious music (both the sounds and the spaces between them), in a truly affirming dinner with a life-time best friend or in how humbling it is to contemplate the universe.
I revel at being able to connect with many individuals in different countries around the world, and to contact almost anyone on the planet using just the touch of a button. I enjoy sharing brain-function information and experiencing the heart-brain reward when I discover that my efforts have made a difference in the lives of some—especially when they practically applied the knowledge gained and found life to have improved exponentially.
Sure, my heart has been broken a time or two (or more), or at least it has felt like it was being stomped on, squeezed out to dry, hammered with a tire iron. How can a heart not ache when it loses a loved one, watches a dear friend self-destruct, sees a child suffer, knows that a beloved pet has bitten the dust, or recognizes clear injustice—if not actual evil? But broken hearts can heal stronger, much like a broken bone. They can mend and the experience can contribute strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is somewhat sterile and may never have known the relief of being imperfect.
I am blessed to have lived long enough to have identified silver hairs (among those I have left), and to have watched my youthful laugh lines etched into deep grooves on my face. Now that I have learned the benefit of daily mirthful laughter those groves are ever deepening. So many have died before their hair could turn silver, or they have never laughed—or not laughed enough to have created a facial map of who they are. I am even grateful to have lived long enough to need (and to have received) a couple hip replacements (something that wasn’t available to ancestors of mine who wrestled with osteoarthritis and passed that tendency on to me). We did like to ice skate!
So, in answer the question “Do you like growing older?” the answer in the main is most of the time. I have seen too many people exit this planet before they understood the great freedom that comes with growing older. There are many things I like about it. Not everything. But we typically give up something to get something. No, I won’t inhabit this planet forever, but I am aiming to reach at least age 122 years 164 days with good mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Meantime I shall continue to surround myself with smart, affirming people who are on a similar journey, who can laugh with me at the vagaries of life, and who are willing to just jump in and take this aging journey. After all, none of us has ever done it before, and we only get one shot at it. I, for one, want to make that shot count for something.
While I am still a living, breathing member of the human race on planet earth, I shall avoid wasting time lamenting what could have been or should have been or might have been. Or worrying about what was, what is, or what will be. And so I shall wear purple (if I feel like it), eat two bites of Tiramisu (if I want to), laugh at what tickles my funny bone (even if mine is the only brain laughing), drive an hour to spend an hour with my family-of-choice, and devote less time thinking about being nice (and more time thinking about being graciously functional).
Here’s to the joys of growing older, of soaring over the century mark like a shooting star against a cobalt sky! Oh, by the way, thank you for asking the question.