When I was in my twenties, I had a girlfriend who was distraught about turning 25. She felt old and imagined she’d be in a much different place in her life than she was. I was confused; we were in the prime of life, young enough to play hard but old enough to make choices for ourselves. It was easy for me to make friends and I was very interested to try and figure out what it meant to be an adult. Worrying about aging felt like a waste of time.
At that time I didn’t have a traditional career: I was bartending in clubs, fumbling my way through school, and trying to figure out my next move. I went to the Yukon for a month-long river expedition with an organization I would later work for. It all led me down an amazing path of work, life, and travel experiences that I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams. Never once did I think about aging, or subscribe to society’s expectations of where I should be.
That is, until I was in my early-thirties. Then I started to feel the pressure and wondered if I was doing the right things. Was I going to fall behind in life because I wasn’t doing what other people thought I should be doing? I began subscribing to that belief and making choices based on what I thought I should be doing instead of what I wanted to be doing.
Many of us get caught up in that, living to keep up with the preverbal ‘Joneses’. To keep doing and moving without considering how we feel or what we want. Who can blame us, it’s what we see, it’s what’s modeled to us. We see people giving themselves up in order to be of service to society’s expectations and focusing on being partners, successful, and good parents.
The thing about aging is, it starts to become more of a reality as we arrive in our 40s. Things start to change, and one day you realize you’re changing in different ways. Society’s expectations take hold again, with a new focal point: Focus on how you look and ward off the signs of aging for as long as you can. The pressure, which has always been there (especially for women), mounts in new ways and compounds in middle age. Keeping young can become a new fixation.
What’s most interesting is that a lot of us actually find freedom in getting older. We start to see that wearing other people’s opinions has exhausted us and we begin to care less. We find more of our truth and carry our wisdom with much less ego.
My concerns about how I look have morphed into worrying about how I look because of getting older; my body doesn’t respond the same and as of late I feel like it is disrespecting me. Additionally, the accumulation of stress – known and unknown – has taken its toll, and I feel more tired and my body aches in ways it didn’t when I was younger.
In the midst of great darkness there always arrives a shimmer of light. In the depth of a humanity that is struggling with so much, why do we obsess over our own experience with such devotion? As I’m greeted with another life juncture, I’m learning to slow down and check in with what’s true for me. As with everything, there has to be some balance and we all need to find what’s worth caring about.
It’s important to me to stay healthy by eating well, exercising, keeping up with practices to stabilize my mental health, and taking care of myself as best as I can. We must relinquish the power of our culture to make us feel like we’re never good enough and have the self-authority to do things that are aligned with who we are, instead of who society says we should be.
Avoiding the aging process and pretending it isn’t happening negates the immense shifts that are the gifts of aging. There is gentle wisdom that’s built, the wisdom of knowing better for yourself, not for other people. The wisdom to be bold and yet respectful of other people’s journeys. The wisdom to speak up for causes and yourself and knowing you don’t know what’s best for someone else.
People often say that as they age they start to give a lot less ‘fucks’ as to what people think of them. This is because you get to know yourself better and you stop looking outward to get the answers or to feel appeasing or pleasing to others.
There’s a reunion with the peace that you were born with, the peace of exploration and learning how to be in the world before you felt shushed, contained, and expected to act more appropriately, hide your feelings, be more lovable, and act how others wanted you to.
As we age, we become more unapologetic because of all the ways we’ve held back in the past. We realize that being loyal to ourselves is much healthier and takes away much of the stress we carry.
There’s more freedom to find yourself, there’s more freedom to let go. We have the opportunity to quit worrying about being perceived a certain way. In youth we divide and sever ourselves into many tiny pieces in order to be accepted and loved, but with age we realize that those ways of being feel isolating and exhausting. The gift lies in recognizing how much we learn with every day, month, and decade of our lives.