Here are just a few things I’ve tried for the first time after the age of 50: paddle boarding, Pilates, shrimp and grits, starting up a photography nonprofit, throwing pottery (not literally, though that might be therapeutic during certain estrogen-starved moments of menopause), painting, writing fiction and cooking with a tagine. Oh yeah, and walking coast-to-coast—200 miles—across Great Britain.
I also tried Zumba, but when buzzards started circling my car every time I drew close to the gym, I switched to Pilates. Not everything we try we’ll enjoy or will turn out be a whopping success. I tried to work up to running a half marathon, but my knees were very clear in communicating this was a bad idea. So, I listened. And I walked.
The good news is that at our age, we don’t have to worry as much about the embarrassment of failure. Because frankly, no one’s watching. The older we get, the more invisible we become, especially to those who are younger than we are. Their expectations of what we can do are very low. When kids below the age of 40 see me, they see Whistler’s Mother in more contemporary clothes. They picture me sitting in a rocking chair and knitting by the fireside. When they hear I walked across Great Britain, they act as though I swam the British Channel. Who knows? Maybe someday I will. Or not. It all depends on where I decide to direct my time, my energy and my passion.
Did you know Whistler’s mother was only 67 when her son painted that famous portrait? I remember seeing Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1 (the painting’s official title) at the Louvre back when I was a college student. Unfortunately, when I asked the museum guard to borrow a chair so I could “pose” in front of the painting for a photo, he did not share my unique take on art appreciation. So, I spent some time simply staring at Whistler’s mom, giving her a careful once-over. She looked old. Shriveled. Fragile. Bored to tears. I could almost hear her saying, “James Abbott McNeill Whistler, would you get on with it? My lumbago is acting up!” But one thing is certain. That woman wasn’t in a rush because she was late for a Pilates class.
Sixty-seven ain’t what it used to be. Neither is 57 or 87. Today, biddies can feel free to get a college degree, volunteer for the Peace Corps, take electric guitar lessons or, like Diana Nyad, swim from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64—or beyond.
Granted, if we want to embark on a new career at this point, we’re liable to smack our little heads against a gray ceiling, as well as a glass one. Age discrimination is alive and well. But competence, persistence and flexibility on our part can take us far. It can lead us places that were never even on the map of our future as we pictured it back in the days of our early adulthood.
However, not all Second Acts are a matter of choice. Some are thrust upon us. An unwelcome change in marital status, our financial picture or our overall health can force us down an unexpected road. What will we do with what we have to work with? Consider artist Frida Kahlo. Sure, she was only a teen when she was in a debilitating accident. But it was that accident that led her to start painting to pass the time. The rest is art history. Who knows what fabulous Second Act may begin from what appears to us to be the end?
We never know when our Second Act will become our Final Act. So, instead of making a Bucket List of what we want to do, let’s make a Becoming List of who we want to be. For me, walking a half marathon was part of that. I want to be active, so I can play with my grandkids, instead of just watching them play. I want to upgrade my view of myself and others in more beneficial, compassionate ways, so I can love well. How about you? Who do you want to grow up to be—and how do you plan on getting there?
Longevity can be the mother of reinvention, an invitation for a spectacular Second Act or a boring, bitter slide toward our finale. As always, the choice is ours. And the time to make that choice is now. Bitter or better… Which will you choose?
This post is an excerpt from Vicki’s new book, A TALE OF TWO BIDDIES: A New Wrinkle on Aging with Grace