Break Free This Year

by Barbara Morris, R.Ph.

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During the past year, social and cultural expectations and traditions have played a huge role in how you, as an older individual, have aged and you probably were not aware of how many of those expectations and traditions have influenced your behavior, and how you think about aging.

For example, if you are around age 40 it is expected that you start to think and act “middle aged”. If your friends “act their age” it’s easy for you to follow suit. They probably use expressions such as “I’m not as young as I used to be” or “I’m having a senior moment” or “I can’t do that anymore” and you parrot the same nonsense. Without intending to do so, you adopt the “monkey see monkey do” syndrome. You speak those meaningless expressions half in jest when you have a momentary memory lapse (which everyone has, regardless of age) or if you do something klutzy. Your peers laugh when you complain about your missteps and they agree with you that, yes, you (and they) are starting to show signs of decline, and it’s okay because “we are all in the same boat”. Without realizing it you internalize as reality their confirmation of your meaningless utterances. It’s toxic, aging behavior.

Here’s another under-the-radar trap: At age 40 you are probably not ready to meet with the retired ladies who wear crazy hats and have a ton of fun at their gatherings, but you probably know someone who enjoys those meetings and can’t wait to get you to join in the festivities. Trust me, unless your head is in the right place, you will join those ladies sooner than later even though you may now declare “It will never happen”.

There is nothing wrong with meeting with the ladies with the crazy hats if that is what you would really like to do, but please understand that once you decide to participate in such a traditional senior activity it’s a foot in the door to accepting other traditional senior lifestyle activities.

In a paragraph above I mentioned the importance of your head being in the right place. What does that mean, exactly? It means that after age 40 you have to chart a deliberate course for your life that is NOT guided by tradition and cultural expectations, which requires constant awareness of how you are thinking and what you are thinking about. It’s not easy because most of us want to “fit in” — to be like our friends, and do what is expected of us “at our age.” Again: It takes on-going awareness and determination, to buck traditional expectations about aging but it’s entirely possible – if you keep your head in the right place.

If you are a boomer, here is my million dollar secret (which may offend some) which you are welcome to adopt: I don’t have senior friends who live the traditional retired lifestyle; I don’t belong to senior organizations; I don’t participate in senior activities; I don’t live in a senior community. Does that make me unfriendly and anti-social? Not at all. My friends and associates are productive, goal and growth oriented, and we support and motivate each other to stay future-oriented. They are employed, have their own business, or in some capacity are of service to others as a way of life. It doesn’t matter how old they are. They do not allow awareness of the number of years lived to put a damper on how they live.

If you are reasonably healthy you will probably have many more bonus years of life than you now think possible. Those years can be exciting and productive or they can be boring, depressing and filled with a yearning for the past when you looked and felt better and life had meaning and purpose.>br>

This year, consider breaking free of traditions that don’t reflect the reality that advancing chronologically does not necessarily mean you must follow traditional thinking and behaviors that do not support growth and productivity. Chart your own course; do your own thing and don’t worry about what others think. If you do that, the payoff in terms of freedom and independence in your later years can be phenomenal in more ways that you can possibly imagine now.

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