I remember the exact moment I realized I was an adult. I was in my early 20s, attending the grand opening of a children’s museum in downtown Wichita. One part of the museum was divided into various scenarios, like a restaurant and a broadcast studio. In the restaurant kitchen, a little girl with long brown hair, probably around 7-years-old, was pretending to be a chef. As I walked into the room, the child started barking orders at me, bossing me around like I was her sous chef. At that exact second, I had the epiphany – “Hey, I’m an adult. I don’t have to do anything she says.” And I turned around and left the room.
Aging happens so fast. One day you’re a fresh-faced adult, starting your life, figuring out who you are and what you want to do, imaging what the future will hold. The next thing you know – you’ve hit middle-age. I can remember that moment vividly too. I was talking with my cousin, when she off-handedly mentioned we had moved into our middle years. I was instantly taken aback. “What? I’m only 44!” I told her. She told me, “How long do you think you’re going to live?” Oops! She was right. With female life expectancy at 82 years of age, guess I’d hit middle age a few years back. (My apologies to those reading this, who haven’t had that realization yet.)
I should have recognized the hints along the way, to help me realize what was going on. Especially as I started getting what I like to call “ma’amed.” That’s when people in stores and service industries stop calling you “miss” and start calling you “ma’am.” In a way, it’s a bit disturbing. I remember when my assistant, Jessica, came to work incredulous that she’d just been “ma’amed” for the first time. Suddenly, we’d rather be called “sweetheart” or “honey,” instead of the “M” word. I know it’s meant as a sign of respect, but it’s also an indicator that things are changing and no matter how young we feel on the inside, the tides of time are moving on.
Now, in my mid-fifties, I’m starting to wonder what the indicators of entering the “old-age” stage of life might be. In other words, that I don’t really want to say out loud - how do you know when you’re old? Is it when you start getting letters from AARP? Or maybe when you start qualifying for senior discounts? Or maybe, it’s when you finally throw away your dusty, old-lady tampons, at last coming to grips with the fact that you’ll never need them again. I am in a time in life when I go to more funerals than weddings. I’m also having to replace people I’ve done business with for a long time, like doctors and home repair people, as they retire. It seems this life stage I’m dreading, is looming ever closer.
I must confess - it gives me a funny, tickly, uncomfortable feeling in my stomach to even type these words. Although I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, aging isn’t something I want to face. So, I ask myself, “Why is there so much emotion in what is simply life’s progression? Why is it such a weird feeling to age? Why do I even care?” I know in my own relationships, I’m not concerned with how old someone is, and have friends of all ages. Which, makes me ask myself, “If I don’t judge other people for their age, why am I doing this to myself?” Hmm.
Of course, I know what really bothers me is society’s perception of aging and the judgements that go along with that. There’s such a stigma to getting older, we’ll go to nearly any lengths to keep the signs of aging at bay. Some women feel that they disappear as they get older. Others are made to feel irrelevant in the workplace. Ageism is alive and kicking, and discrimination can be subtle, yet deadly. No wonder we don’t like to admit our age.
I’ve decided that rather than worry about getting older, I’m going to focus on maintaining a fresh attitude, something I can control. It may not be the fountain of youth, but I plan to fake it until I make it. Here’s my plan:
Not be defined by other’s labels.
Have you seen Advanced Style? Created by author and photographer Ari Seth Cohen, this project is devoted “to capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set.” He says, “I feature people who live full creative lives. They live life to the fullest, age gracefully and continue to grow and challenge themselves.” These stylish seniors dress and live for their own amusement and don’t care how other people think they should behave. While I don’t feel I’m quite old enough to join this lively party yet, I aspire to, and will start practicing now.
The best way to stay vital and body, mind and spirit is to stay mobile. Find whatever this means for you. I already have painful arthritis in my knee and ankles, so walking or running for much distance is not for me. I’ve found water exercise classes, especially water Tabata, high-intensity interval training, is my jam. I can’t even tell I’m sweating. Beyond going to the gym, keeping an active lifestyle with lots of movement of any kind helps too.
One of the hardest parts about being older is becoming isolated. As friends move on – to become one with the universe, or to other locales, we start to lose touch with the physical connections we have in the community. It’s depressing to be by yourself all the time, even with social media. I love how we come together at the Finishing School for Modern Women. The connections we make in person, and the energy and knowledge we exchange when we’re together physically is powerful and just feels good. Getting out and volunteering, attending events in the community, and staying engaged is important to our longevity and connectiveness.
Not with everything. Figure out what makes your heart sing, and pursue that. For some it may be technology, others fashion, or music, or current affairs. When I notice that I’m feeling left behind, because I don’t know who some musician, song, or current pop culture craze is, I look it up! It’s never been easier to get the information we’re curious about, at the tip of our fingers, with the internet. But talking to real live people about what they’re interested in currently is a great way to keep up too. I’ve found I learn just as much, if not more, from young people than they can learn from me. Volunteering with young people is a great, no pressure way to hang out with them. If you don’t want a long-term commitment, there are many one-time opportunities to volunteer. (Check out Volunteer Kansas for ideas.)
Focus on the fantastic parts of aging.
Sure, everything hurts more, and the stamina I’ve always depended on doesn’t always come through, no matter how hard I try to press on. But, there are lots of good things about being older too. I’m finally starting to learn how to pick my battles. I’ve learned a few things and don’t have to make the same mistakes I’ve made in the past. I feel comfortable in my skin and have learned to love myself – not despite my flaws, but because of them. I feel much wiser now, making decisions that best serve me, not some idea of what I “should” be. Truly understanding that I am perfect, in my imperfection.
Doing a little research about how you know when you’re old, I found that the U.S. Census quantifies middle age as 45 to 65, so I have a way to go before I’m officially “old.” Still, I know I’ll feel ageless in my head forever. After all, goddesses never age.