Yesterday I was at the annual picnic for the tech company I work at, conversing with some folks around my age. I don’t remember what sparked it, but someone made a remark about how getting old sucks.
“I can’t think of a single good thing about getting older,” she said.
And everyone else agreed.
I said being over 50 allowed me to start my big race an hour earlier. People chuckled but no one built on that small offering, so I let the topic go. My co-workers are well aware that I do not lead the avvv-erage middle-age lifestyle, and I didn’t want it to turn into a “me vs. the rest of them” comparison. But I can’t agree with the attitude that getting older contains nothing to appreciate.
I won’t generalize here; I understand that everyone’s life experience is different, and factors like genetics, environment, and educational and work opportunities all play a role in how things turn out. So I’ll just cover a few things I personally appreciate about this point in my life (age 56) and what I can look forward to.
One is the very pleasant surprise of continued physical fitness. Since I started running races at age 47, my strength and stamina have only improved. This year I ran my longest race ever, and am on track for my most yearly miles run, too. Terrific trainers, a sensible diet, and appropriate rest have all contributed, but in the end it’s the desire to reach for new goals that keeps me out there. And that desire is as strong and motivating as ever.
My outlook has changed, too. Little things bother me much less than they used to. Annoying people, bad drivers, certain football teams losing – I’ve learned how to let go and move on, at least most of the time. It’s really liberating.
I’ve also lived long enough to pick up on some longer cycles. Economic downturns? Social upheavals? Don’t like our current set of politicians? This, too, shall pass. (I’m not saying sit back and do nothing – absolutely be an activist for something you really believe in – but understand that time really does change everything.)
And I care a lot less about what other people think of me, or whatever crazy adventure I happen to pursue. Why? I learned that most people never thought about me much in the first place. But that’s not what’s in the mind of someone fresh out of college and looking for a job, or raising kids (oh, man, are parents sensitive or what?) or trying to get in with the latest “cool group.” (*) It takes life (i.e. time on Earth) to figure that out.
Case in point: I can go to a naked bike ride and not be the least self-conscious about it. People taking photos? So what? Good luck trying to humiliate or blackmail me. No worries about scandalizing my parents, since they’ve both passed. And my daughters? With my youngest approaching 30, it’s too late to corrupt them further. Deal with it, kiddos.
Now, obviously I can’t keep up my current activities forever. At some point, what I’m able to do, and what I want to do, will change. But that’s okay. As my Aikido instructors like to say, every end is also a beginning. What those beginnings will be, I have no idea.
But mystery is part of what makes life fascinating, isn’t it? And ongoing discovery and pursuit of new things is part of what makes it fulfilling. That’s what I believe makes the rest of my life worth living.
(*) Note: groups that are actually cool – like runners – are happy to accept you as you are. At any age.