I read an article in the New York Times recently, which explained how people over 50 are redefining the expectations of age. It set me thinking because by the end of this coming year I will be celebrating my 54thbirthday and my partner just turned 60. Neither of us feels ‘that old’. We have our plans and our dreams to be 50 something’s who intend to live. Yet, with mortality knocking on our door and unfair generalisations and stereotypes still very present. What principles should we choose to live this second half of life?
Society, in general, considers ageing as something to fight against. The beauty industry is geared to keeping you looking young and if that doesn’t work then Photoshop will do it for you. I will admit that I have struggled to navigate through the ageing process backwaters, particularly when I see how women are defined, as they grow older. It is those gasps of incredulity when a woman looks amazing and she is, wait for it… over 50, versus the cruel comments directed at women, who have apparently failed in the ageing process. I struggle to understand what a woman is supposed to look like at a certain age and who determines the definition?
There are many unfair generalisations that go beyond appearance directed at the elderly – resistant to change or mostly unhappy are two. My personal experience suggests age discrimination is subtle and starts early. Last year, I suffered a period of work-related stress. In part brought on by age-related expectation. As a person with experience, I should be outstanding all the time and I was to be scrutinised to ensure that I was. My once beloved profession has an underlying attitude that the older you are the less effective and commercially attractive you become. I felt contained by an increasingly ridged set of criteria and I broke. A good friend of mine in her 50’s recently applied for a new administration position. On the back of written communication from a potential employer was something along the lines that the position was not for anyone over 53!
Western society seems to keep silent and turn a blind eye to the discrimination faced and to be faced by all of us who age. Do we value the experience of a rich, generous life lived with all its complexities or is it dismissed too quickly? In the last few years, I have been privileged to come to know a few people over 80. Each has a vitality and spark that quickly dispels any stereotype. It was Freda’s mischievous grin that caught my attention. A bent, wizen woman, who needed a walking frame, yet took no time in inviting me round to ‘see her place’ and later launched into a story that revealed this small shrivelled, speck of women, once drove food lorries and supplies into Poland during the early eighties when the country was under the heavy grip of communism. My expectations were challenged. Had I judged only by appearance?
I contemplated this question, as I attended the funeral of one of these friends. The bright, eager fresh-faced sailor who looked out from an aged photograph was now contained within a flag-draped wooden box, having lived his eighty plus years. Was this life so richly lived and over in a breath to disappear from memory? No, I came to realise the impact a life lived well can have on those touched by its presence. My friend’s interest and kindness were always so valuable His knowledge freely shared and his thoughtful care generously given. I am richer for having known him. There are others who continue to inspire me. Rosemary, who learned to Kayak for her eightieth birthday and keeps her childlike soul alive and to those in Poland impacted by the courage of Freda, I am sure their lives will never be the same.
‘We are such stuff. As dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep’ The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158
So what can those of us in the second half of life and approaching it do? What principles should we choose to live by? What might an over 50’s manifesto be?
- Defined a person not an outward appearance, age, race, sexual orientation, religion, but by their character.
- Accept that ageing is going to happen and embrace the adventure. I suppose for me it is saying my age. I am 53. I came to realise in writing this blog post, that I did indeed find it uncomfortable saying how old I was
- Remain positive. There are challenges at any stage of life. There will be good and bad days. I am determined with my best will to look for the positives. Perhaps that is worth further thought, what do you think are the positive of life over 50?
- Seek adventures. Try new things, learn new things, and meet new people. Pick up things that you once knew and relearn them, reconnect with lost friends. Adventures can be as distance or local as you decide
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R Tolkien Lord of the Ring
- Be Selfless. All that life experience means you have something to offer. Focus with compassion and kindness on others
- Find joy in small things. Go for slow walks in nature and look. Take pleasure in the sound of birds, wildflowers, the grandeur of trees, the ever-changing weather. Enjoy playing ‘poo sticks’, lying in long grass, reading a book.
- Choose to live lighter. Do you really need all that stuff? Enjoy the opportunity to clear out the clutter. How many kitchen utensils do you really need? If you haven’t used or worn something in over a year, do you need it? Could someone else use it?
Thank you for reading this post. I would be really interested to know what you think. I cannot pretend that by writing a post, I can glibly put to rest the challenges that life has to throw up, particularly for much later in life and as I walk further on into my fifties issues such as loneliness rear their head. Time for further reflection.
Some of the images in this post were taken at The Pötzleinsdorfer Schloss Park, in Vienna. It is a place that has inspired my writing.
Here is a piece about feeling the weight of unfair expectation and judgement – Frame Me, Contain Me.