Old Before My Time
I thought I was old at thirty-nine. Through no fault of our own, my husband and I had suffered a devastating financial setback that left us reeling, shattered, and wondering what in the world comes next. For a long time, I’d been entertaining the idea of going back to school, but my dream seemed unattainable, impossible to pay for, and selfish when weighed against my responsibilities as wife and mother.
But somehow the shock of this huge misfortune gave me the pause I needed to evaluate myself and where I was in life. My children were growing up, I was beginning to fear getting older, and the dreams and goals that I’d shoved down and tried to ignore were no longer willing to be quiet, to fade away in surrender.
I drove two hours one-way to the university I’d chosen and wandered the unfamiliar campus in search of my classes. By noon I was in my car, weeping, on the phone with my husband. “I’m the oldest person here, and I have no idea what I’m doing!” I sobbed.
We live in a culture that worships youth and demonizes aging, especially for women. This is nothing new. In the 18th century, women were considered spinsters if unmarried by their early-to-mid twenties and were called “surplus women” in the 19th century.
The twentieth century, with it’s emphasis on media and advertising, focused on youthful female bodies and faces, equating youthfulness with beauty, value, and worth, and relegating “older” women to the sidelines of life. Unfortunately, the message hasn’t changed in the 21st century. We’re still told that life and adventure and accomplishment and fun and vitality are only for the young.
Aging and Fear
Not only does western culture and the media devalue those no longer “young,” they also actively promote fear and insecurity. Turn on the TV and soon you’ll see advertisements for reverse mortgages (Watch out! You’ll run out of money as you age!), prescription drugs (Aging people are susceptible to this health issue! You probably have it and don’t even know it! Hurry and call your doctor!), and panic buttons (Old people fall all the time! And they can’t get up!) They are selling the message that getting older is a negative, scary, inevitable, slippery slope. I beg to disagree.
Gather Your Courage
The most courageous thing I ever did was not to give in to my fear, quit school, and go home where it was “safe.” Instead, I refused to admit defeat and threw myself completely into my studies and all the activities offered to me as a university student. I refused to let it matter to me that I was old enough to be some of my fellow students’ mother.
Above all, I chose to focus on my value as a human being, as someone worthy of her dreams, and gradually the age-based limitations I’d absorbed and unconsciously agreed to began to fade away, or at least become less important.
You Have the Power. You Decide.
I realized that the reason I’d been feeling so old had nothing to do with my actual age. The truth was that I’d stopped living. I’d let someone else tell me who I was and what I was allowed to be. I was stagnant, unchanging, not growing.
I’m sure you’ve seen those online articles with titles like “Make-up No-No’s for Women Over Forty!” or “What to Wear after Fifty!” or “Hairstyles for Women over Sixty!” Ignore them!!! What do they know about you?
You’ve lived long enough to know your own style, what looks good on you, what feels awesome, what makes you confident at any age. Trust your own knowing! Wear what makes you feel beautiful and alive and comfortable in your own skin.
If you like short hair, go for it. If long hair is your preference, let it grow! I haven’t dyed my hair in several years now, and I’m going gray by choice. Right now, if I wear my hair down you’ll see thin silver strands around my face, in my hairline, and scattered lightly throughout. However, when pulled up, the silver cannot be ignored.
I have laugh lines and crinkles around my eyes. My skin shows evidence of a life lived outdoors. Do these things make me look “older”? Probably. But I know two things. I’ve had friends who didn’t live long enough to have gray hair or wrinkles. I’m sure they’d consider them a privilege, not a burden. And if some of us don’t start normalizing and honoring the natural aging process, how can we gift peace and acceptance to the young women who come after us?
Life is an Adventure
I earned my college degree at 41, completed my Masters and landed a university teaching position at 43, and completed my PhD at age 48. I became a Life Coach when I was 55 and a certified yoga instructor and Reiki II practitioner last year at age 58. What’s next? Honestly, I don’t know yet, but I’m open to inspiration.
I’m active. I walk daily, run a little, lift weights, and practice yoga regularly. I’ve learned to listen to my body and respect its wisdom, to see myself as healthy and vital. Passionately, I refuse to listen to fear-based messages about health and aging. I own my age; I don’t apologize for it. Life is an adventure.
Don’t Surrender. Don’t Fight. Embrace.
Don’t buy into society’s negative stereotypes of aging. If you choose to surrender to the sidelines of life, expecting to get weaker and more infirm and less attractive and increasingly excluded from life, you are inviting yourself to live that very experience. You are attracting what you most fear.
Additionally, don’t spend your precious time and energy “fighting” the aging process. Instead, use every ounce of yourself to embrace the life still ahead of you. Remember and cherish the previous chapters of life with their joys and challenges. All these experiences made you who you are today. Why would you assume the future to be less of an adventure? Why would you assume there’s nothing left to learn, no more growth to be experienced, nothing left of you to give?
Instead, embrace the glorious adventure of your life. Value the process of growing into yourself, day by day, year by year. See yourself as worthy of beautiful and interesting life experiences, no matter your age. Embracing the full spectrum of life with joy is a choice I make daily. You can, too.