“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…” The first time I read poet Robert Browning’s lines, I was too young to truly understand what they meant. But in adolescent arrogance, I was pretty sure they weren’t true. No one I knew seemed to look forward to getting old.
It’s unfortunate that we’re taught, mostly unintentionally, that out of all the things we don’t want to grow up to be – old is one of them. Even as children, we witness the underlying message that people over a certain age aren’t always valued. And then as we’re trying to find our own place in the world, raise kids or establish a career, we often can’t get our head above water long enough to even think about our own aging.
It sneaks up on us so we don’t see it coming. But one day we catch a glimpse in the mirror and know we are indeed getting older. So we frantically hang on to something or anything to stop or slow down the process. And it’s not just emotionally. I love the outdoors and would never sacrifice the chance to play golf for beautiful nails or a hike in exchange for a spa day (well, maybe not never). But I have to admit there was still a certain pang of regret when I saw the physical changes that happen along with the years.
For many women, growing older awakens buried but long-held stereotypes about what they now can and can’t do. What’s allowed and what’s excluded. It’s not simple or only in our imagination. We become aware, sometimes painfully, of facing the ageism that needs to be fought constantly in our daily lives. And we’re most likely sorry that we didn’t see it sooner when others were struggling.
But then one day it happens. We cross over some undefined line and our mindset begins to shift. It doesn’t arrive as a wrapped present at a certain birthday or numerical age. It’s different for everyone. But it is a gift.
“We see the opportunities ahead and no longer are tripped up by the nonsensical notion that meaningful life is coming to an end.”
We start to accept who and where we are, but not in resignation. We see the opportunities ahead and no longer are tripped up by the nonsensical notion that meaningful life is coming to an end. In the beginning, it feels surprisingly good as we start letting go of self-inflicted stereotypes. As we get more comfortable and finally have the time and space to take a breath, we can see the limitations are only our own. It’s energizing.
Everyone’s life and list will be different but here are 5 possibilities that may surprise you.
Maybe it’s because you made it through your kids’ puberty, your own stressful thirties and forties, or the ending of a marriage made anywhere but heaven. Maybe it’s because you’re no longer raising kids or playing politics at work. But mostly your point of view has changed. You not only quit sweating the small stuff but now you know what small stuff really is. Who knew there was such freedom waiting for us?
Remember all the self-doubts about who you were, who you were going to ultimately be and who you were always trying to change yourself into to be what someone else wanted? That can all just fall away now. You are who you are and that is a strong and amazing woman. You don’t have to hide that anymore. And if you still have people in your life that treat you otherwise, they need to change. Not you.
You start realizing that you’re not able to fix everybody else’s problems and that no one actually gave us the job. Especially with adult kids, you stop seeing them as children and recognize they’re growing up. You also accept that prefacing everything you say with “it’s none of my business” or “it’s your life” doesn’t get you off the hook. Your mantra now is that others have the same right to make the same stupid mistakes that you did. Whether they learn from them is not your responsibility.
But you have to work for it. It turns out that growing wiser isn’t a given, no matter how old you may be. Simply blowing out candles every year actually only makes some people older. We need to use the lessons we’ve learned. By now we should know the twists and turns of life firsthand, how to avoid the ones we can and how to better navigate the others. We also finally understand that if we want a situation to change, our behavior is all we control.
Never is that more apparent than now. Time is passing so quickly. Some say it only feels that way because there are more years behind us than ahead. I see it instead as a change in perspective. Every day is valued now and there’s simply no time to waste. No day is guaranteed and that includes our own. There’s still so much we want to do and there’s no time to lose.
The years are not always easy and this stage can be hard because age also brings the sorrow of loss and unchosen transitions. But if you’re still fighting to hang on to a life that’s no longer yours because you don’t want to be old, let it go. I promise you won’t regret that you did and you’ll end up wondering what you were so worried about.
Browning’s poem continues to tell us that a whole life is planned – “youth shows but half.” That is so true. It’s just too bad we can’t see how wonderful growing older can be until we get here. But just imagine what the second half can be like now that we’re beginning to understand what the first half taught us? I can’t wait.
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