It’s a fact. Many of us are growing older—especially the lucky ones!
A colleague of mine, who is turning 60 this year, was surprised at how big that number seemed to him! What did it mean? Why was he so rattled? After all, isn’t 60 just a number?
Milestone birthdays have significance. Turning 21, 30, 40, 50, 65, 70 and beyond bring forth a stream of feelings and concerns and can precipitate an emotional crisis. Most of the upheaval occurs during the year before, in preparation for the big day.
Turning 30 was a big deal for me! I didn’t want to be there. Somehow, I thought arriving at 30 meant I was “grown up.” I didn’t want all the responsibilities I associated with adulthood! Actually, when I was 40, I felt great. I loved my surprise 40th birthday party. It coincided with starting a new phase of my life. I was moving to Washington State! The last two milestones, 50 and 60, were much more challenging. During those birthdays, I was more aware of physical and mental changes that I didn’t like–aches and pains, new health problems, changes in appearance, and less get up and go. I have a feeling that turning 65 and getting my Medicare card is going to be tough birthday too. How did I get so old, so quickly?
In every society, we have cultural expectations about what we “should” accomplish by a certain age. By thirty, we should be in a committed relationship and have the beginnings of a career or good job. Before 35, we should have children. By 40, we should have obtained some material and vocational success. What if we haven’t achieved those cultural imperatives by those ages? It’s human nature to compare ourselves with our friends and relatives. Inevitably, we may turn up short in certain areas! Ouch!
Physical change can also be distressing. At 40, I noticed these lines on my forehead! Where did they come from? Why was my waistline growing? I wasn’t eating any more! What about those splotchy things on my skin? What’s up with those baggy things under my eyes? By 60, I didn’t like looking in the mirror! I would think—“That guy looks just like me, but older!”
For men, and especially for women in our culture, appearance is a big deal. We live in a youth oriented culture. Looking young means looking beautiful. No one wants to look their age when they are over 40!
Don’t tell me that the new 50, is 40! Or the new 60, is 50. It’s because none of us want to acknowledge the truth—we are growing older.
Like all of us, when I look back I marvel at how quickly the years have flown by. Where did all of that time go? I am particularly intrigued by the experience of time as we age. As we grow older, the passage of time is like a train that is slowly, but surely going faster.
So, what are some healthy ways to approach growing older?
Focus on the positive. Growing older is a privilege, that some don’t get to experience. Focus on the positive and take stock of what you feel grateful for. I have two wonderful adult children who are doing well in their lives. I have a relationship with my wife that has grown and deepened over 40 years. I am fortunate to have a mother who is turning 91! I have a great job and fine colleagues. I am truly fortunate. So what are a few aches and pains?
Look back over the last decade and take stock of your own personal growth. When you look back at how you have grown and developed you will be pleasantly surprised. How have you handled changes in fortune? How have you developed as a friend, relative, parent, co-worker, or partner? What have you learned about yourself?
Acceptance. Change is inevitable. Adopt a more neutral attitude towards the physical and mental changes associated with growing older. You don’t have to like looking older! But you don’t have to hate it either.
What has helped you cope with milestone birthdays? What was your best one?