As she moved into her late 50’s my mother started using the phrase, “Old age is NOT for the faint of heart.” It was said with a touch of sarcasm, a roll of the eyes or even a laugh whenever life presented her with a challenge she associated with aging from forgetting where she parked the car to the death of a dear friend.
As a smug 30-something, I thought she was being overly melodramatic. Watching my mother negotiate her 50’s and beyond, I couldn’t imagine how aging could possibly be difficult for her or anyone for that matter. She traveled often and enjoyed her tribe of friends and family. She did the Thursday New York Times crossword puzzle and took regular Stretch and Flex classes at her gym. She made it seem easy.
Today I am of the age where Mom’s adage makes sense, sans melodrama. It was her way of making light of the real challenge it was to stay healthy, engaged and relevant well into her old age, to accept the inevitable physical changes and myriad losses.
It’s was and still is no easy thing to get older in our culture. To be a woman growing older is a double whammy. We are encouraged to look younger, act younger and defy age. At the same time we are invisible, past our prime, asexual, treated like children. We’re expected to gracefully withdraw from active life.
But our secret sauce is that we are Baby Boomers. We challenge what’s expected from us and forge new norms. It’s no different with aging. The collective Boomer buzz is growing louder as more of us insist on reframing aging as a powerful time of life.
It’s not a time for the faint of heart, but for the strong of spirit.
And because it’s sometimes a challenge to see the truth of how full of strength and possibility we are I offer a manifesto. It’s a roadmap to help us all remember our voices as we become what Dr Joann Lynn refers to as “old women in training.”
1. Listen Carefully. Notice the voices inside that say, “ I am too old” or the voices outside that say, “You are too old.” Say thanks, but no thanks. You are never too old and it’s never too late. Listen carefully to your heart’s desires. They know the truth about who you are and can steer you like a north star.
2. Move. Movement is life’s elixir. Take time each day to move your body in whatever way you can for as long as you can. There is grace and strength in this. You will live longer, better.
3. Light Up. Time is a finite resource. If not now, when? Do what lights you up. You won’t be given permission and you may find disapproval. Don’t wait for others to understand. Light up your soul with experiences and things you love.
4. Feel Deeply. Over time, life has a way of making us put our deepest feelings and desires aside. Bills need paying, families need tending, work demands our best energy. Our deepest desires become liabilities on the road of life. Figure out what moves you and do more of it.
5. Seek Truth. Myths about aging keep us fearful, full of apprehension, dread and denial about the future. The truth about aging is so much more positive and full of possibility. When you learn the truth, you’ll be free to create your future from a place of strength and calm.
6. Be Visible. Making yourself seen is a radical act. We live in a culture that denies aging so much that we are routinely and reflexively ‘unseen’. You will be dismissed by people who will look right through you as if you don’t exist. Decide what it means to you to ‘be seen’ and do it.
7. Take Pride. There is no shame in growing old. Remember that we are all aging, from the moment we are born. It is a natural progression, not a personal failure. An accomplishment not a disease.
8. Create Your Own Story. What matters most is the story you tell yourself about how you will age. Be yourself, only older.
9. Claim Your Age. You have wisdom and experience that comes only with age. You are the sum of all that came before, not a shadow of who you once were. At the same time, don’t let others put you in an ‘age box’ for their convenience.
10. Be A Smart Ass.. At this point in your life, you don’t have to take any guff from anyone anymore. So while I know you would never be a jerk, realize that your wisdom and opinions count for a lot and are worth sharing. Speak up.
My mom would be proud to have us appropriate her adage to reflect the fire in the bellies of us old women in training. Old age isn’t for the faint of heart. We’ve got this.
Betsy Ogden is founder of The Art of Going Gray, home of The Art of Going Gray Sisterhood and creator of the signature fitness program Pilates Gone Gray. She gives women over 50 the tools to wake up everyday feeling physically fit and healthy, with energy to burn. www.betsyogden.com.