I have no idea what it’s like to inch toward your last 10, 20, or 30 years. But people I love dearly are right there, right now, and I like to empathize and imagine it in my own life. I want to be ready to counter the challenges, which I believe include:
- Being devalued as a citizen. Our culture worships youth. To the point where 50 year olds have trouble getting jobs and cosmetic surgery is common outside of Hollywood. The TV commercials no longer target you (Ensure and Drug companies excluded), you don’t earn money so you’re deemed less important to society, and you identified your self worth with your career like a good American and now that’s over.
- Loss of control. Your body is no longer doing what you want it too. Neither are your children or grandkids. Your money, while kind of in your control, is going places you no longer want and being limited by decisions made long ago.
- More past than future. It’s the loss of potential that I imagine hurts. Again, we live in a society that thinks in linear trajectories. Your onwards and upwards line is short now. I mean, does the future (considering the challenges of getting older), really have any chance of being as meaningful as the past?
- Fear. You are closer to death. We all dread death, but young people pretend it is far off and that comforts them. If you don’t fear physical death, you probably fear the decay of your body and mind (really just a slower death) and the loss of control that brings. You will have to rely on people, trust people, and ask things of them. It’s the old “I don’t want to be a burden” lament.
How am I doing? Okay, now here are some things I plan to tell myself, maybe daily, as I grow older. This will be my crazy manifesto, an attempt, to age “gracefully.” Hah!
Dear Rocky, Melissa, or whatever you call yourself now:
- You have unprecedented value. No longer burdened with having to spend hours at work and the rest of it molding young minds or spiffing up the home, you have the most valuable resource in society. TIME. If you want to be valuable, now is your chance to truly bring value to the world. You thought that paycheck made you valuable. It did to your family in the moment, but to the world? Probably not. Now you can be valuable to even more people by giving your wisdom and skills back to society for free or ridiculously low cost. People NEED you. Swing a cat at your local Wal-Mart on a Saturday and you’ll hit 4-5 people that could really use you in their life. Seriously.
- The control you had was an illusion. You never had it. The 18 year old barreling down the country road in his Dad’s car with his five unbuckled friends doesn’t have it either. Steve Jobs didn’t have it. People control very little in our chaotic world, but they influence a lot. Let go of what you cannot control and work on what you can influence. This is spiritual work; a process. Work on yourself. You have time.
- Yes, there is more behind than in front. It’s bittersweet. Choose to taste the sweet. The sweetness is the wisdom your incredible life has given you. Your future can be as, or more, meaningful than your past. Just don’t stop envisioning new things for yourself. We have all heard of that guy, who got the gold watch, went home, and died of a heart attack the next day. Don’t stop making goals and plans. Envision your life, positively and healthfully, until you’re 110. Because why the hell not?
- Fear. People fear a lot of different things. I think aging brings most of us face to face with those fears. Fear of loss, fear of death, fear of incompetence, fear of abandonment. But now that you’re looking all that right in the face, go ahead and spit on it. Are you really worried what people think? You have never been in a more powerful position in your life. You — with your wisdom and your diminished obligations – are in the IDEAL position to face and break away from old fears. Again, spiritual journey time.
So, Rocky, you still matter — because you always mattered and always will — just as much, and just as little, as everyone else. Except now you have a new gift. You have earned covet-worthy wisdom and time. And you did EARN it. No need to apologize about that. Now, go forth and do amazing things.