During a TV show featuring people who became millionaires as a result of pursuing their dreams, a woman in the audience said she wanted to start a business but felt it was too late. “After all,” she said, “I’m forty.”
Alas, the downside of knowing the number of years you have lived.
How would your life be different if you didn’t know your chronological age? What if you had nothing to go on except awareness of your mental and physical abilities, your dreams and aspirations? How would you live if you had enough money to live the way you would really like to live and not have to think about how long you have to live?
Growing up, I can’t recall the number of times I heard my mother lament that if only ten years younger she would have done “whatever”. She was an intelligent woman with unappreciated talents and unrealized dreams. She respected and lived by the hidebound traditions of the time that kept her “in her place”. Chronological age called the shots then. Unfortunately, to a great extent, it still does.
Times change, or seem to change. Age 70 is heralded as the new 50. It sounds good, but in a culture that has not caught up with reality, for most people, age 70 is still age 70 with all its bumps, warts. bruises, and limitations.
To get to age 70 and live as if age 50 takes ignoring a lot of set in stone stereotypical expectations “for your age”. At around age 50, or before, you are gradually sucked into a cultural box labeled “These Are The Rules To Think, Act and Be At Your Chronological Age”. The rules are not published or posted anyplace, they are simply infused throughout the culture, handed down from one generation to another, revealed and played out in an established senior lifestyle and mindset. You may not want to abide by the rules but you can’t escape them entirely because they are so pervasive.
Recently I pulled out of my files an article from “Aging Today”, November/December 2000. It opens with a quote by Matilda White Riley, founder of the National Institute of Aging’s Behavioral and Social Research program. She opined that age is “losing much of its importance.” She continued, “Soon specific ages will no longer serve as rigid criteria for entry, exit and performance in social roles.”
That was 15 years ago and chronological age still rules, and stereotypical beliefs and attitudes (aka “The Rules”) about “old” people still prevail.
I recently saw the movie, “The Intern” about a 70 year-old retired businessman who volunteers as an intern in a successful Internet business owned by a super smart young woman. It was inspiring to see him give up a boring existence and become part of a world that breathed new life into him.
I wonder how many retired persons who saw the movie took it as a cue or permission to “get a life” again. A few may have thought for ten seconds that it might be fun but the retirement culture doesn’t encourage or support it. Old people, like the character in “The Intern” who have the guts to “unretire” and go for a more fulfilling life, are viewed as amusing anomalies, rewarded with accolades of “you are so wonderful for your age.” The downside is that the unretired renegades are no longer part of “the retired tribe” and may even be shunned by the tribe for their “alternative” lifestyle.
The movie reinforced three realities about “old” people and our stuck-in-the-mud culture:
(1) Healthy retired individuals have a lot of expertise and wisdom to share but it is wasted (and even unwelcome) for the most part.
(2) Old people add no benefit to the culture, so why try to change anything in their favor — they will soon be gone.
(3) Young people have a lot to learn about how to navigate life, and mature people can help them along the way. The experience and wisdom of successful old people should be highly valued and sought after, but unfortunately, it’s not.
In the movie a young coworker asks the 70-year-old where he sees himself in 10 years. It’s a legitimate question. If you are 70 you should have a plan for where you want to be or what you want to be doing in 10 years and awareness of your chronological age and cultural norms should not factor into it.
If you are reasonably healthy, and longing to escape the boredom of a supposed-to-be fantasy retirement that never materialized, and instead, mix things up in the real world, then ignore “your number”. Get things in order for the end of life, applying the rotisserie sales pitch catch phrase — “set it and forget it”. Then, live each day with purpose and in a constant state of growth, fortified by a mindset that you will live forever. Making life decisions without regard for your age is not living in denial; it’s the ultimate liberation.
Where do you want to be, or what do you want to be in 10 years? Whatever it is, live in anticipation of life, not death.