Quit obsessing over lost youth and enjoy the gifts of age. · 5 min read
by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash
It’s no secret that the US is youth-obsessed. From cosmetics to clothing lines, activities to advertising, Americans worship the cult of youth.
As early as age 30 women are bombarded with advertising for beauty serums, hair color, and skin-tightening treatments to ward off the scourges of wrinkles, grey hairs, and sagging.
Recently, men, too, have been urged to cover their grey and keep their skin smooth and soft.
Denial ain’t just a river.
As a 59-year-old, I’ve spent a large portion of my life worrying about getting older, thanks in no small part to advertising that frightens us into buying products in an attempt to prevent what’s portrayed as the horrors of age.
I’ve spent thousands of dollars on paints and potions to help me live in the denial that anything has changed since I was 21. But after all of this expense and effort and fear, I’ve made an astonishing discovery: aging happens, and it’s actually NICE.
It started with my hair. At 22 I found my first grey hair. Plucking it led to two more appearing, and removing those two caused the arrival of four more. For the next 35 years, I colored my hair religiously every month.
But it seemed like the more effort I took with my looks, the more I was obliged to take just to maintain the status quo. I was getting people accustomed to a particular artificial look of me instead of just letting them become accustomed to the natural look of me.
I fought the good fight until I was physically unable to do so any longer. The first cover-up was the first to be abandoned. I quit coloring my hair because arthritis in my shoulders made holding my arms up for 20 minutes at a time impossible.
Next, I quit wearing foundation, eye shadow, and blush, and went to work with only lipstick and mascara. Nobody seemed to notice, or if they did they made no comment. It occurred to me then why was I bothering to wear all that in the first place?
*I was getting people accustomed to a particular artificial look of me instead of just letting them become accustomed to the natural look of me.*
The next discovery I made about aging was that it was suddenly okay for me to “slow down”. Not come to a dead stop and sit in a rocking chair, mind you, but rather people’s expectations for what I should be doing gradually eased up.
No longer did I have to juggle a full-time career, a family, a side gig, and endless self-maintenance. Now, it was okay if I cut back to part-time hours. Now, my “hobby” didn’t have to also bring in extra income (and thus cause extra work) but instead could change back into something I enjoyed before it became an obligation.
Easing up doesn’t mean giving up.
As Americans, we are under enormous pressure to be “productive”. How many articles do you see about increasing productivity, getting more done in less time, multi-tasking, doing the work of three people with just one person — and marching along endlessly until we drop in our tracks?
I can hear a lot of you thinking oh, she’s let herself go. That phrase has a negative connotation, but we need to rethink it. Letting yourself go doesn’t have to mean surrendering or giving up on your dreams.
Letting yourself go should mean freeing yourself from everyone else’s expectations. And also freeing yourself from your own unrealistic beliefs and desires.
There’s a harmful fallacy we continue to thrust upon our children: You can do anything in this world that you want to. The problem is, for many reasons, this simply isn’t true.
We love the idea that telling a child they can do or be whatever they want when they grow up is beneficial; that this platitude magically frees the child to dream without limitations. And, that somehow simply saying this will make it happen. But it isn’t realistic.
We spend so much of our young lives struggling to be or do something that is impossible, not realizing that we’re wasting energy and resources that could be better used elsewhere.
*There’s a big difference between striving to become a jet pilot and leaping off the roof wearing a towel around our necks.*
We gnash our teeth over not looking like supermodels with six-foot-long legs even though we ourselves are only five-foot-three. We kill ourselves trying to get into Harvard Med, ignoring the fact that our IQ is only average.
There’s a big difference between striving to become a jet pilot and leaping off the roof wearing a towel around our necks. The goal of both is to fly, but only one of those methods is likely to succeed.
The joy of acceptance.
And that’s ultimately the beauty of getting older. It’s realizing that looks don’t matter as much as we think and that what you can produce doesn’t define who you are. It’s accepting that life has certain limitations for each of us and that it’s okay to take a step back.
It’s discovering that there’s more to our existence than hammering away at a job that makes a lot of money just so you can buy a bunch of stuff that you believe makes doing a job you hate more tolerable.
It’s recognizing that most of the people you’ve been working so hard to impress or to outdo were never really worth all that effort in the first place.
It’s understanding that having three good friends is better than having 1000 followers, and that popularity is an illusion that does nothing to make us better people, but instead just feeds our overstuffed egos.
It’s comprehending the enormity of life and the world and how tiny we each are in the vastness of the universe. Our petty problems pale in comparison to the grand scheme, no matter what your concept of that is.
It’s true that with age comes wisdom. That’s because we finally get our heads out of our fannies and stand up straight enough to see above the ground fog that smothers much of our awareness.
A miracle happens after age 50 — sometimes earlier, if you’re lucky. You wake up one day and discover that the breath you’ve been holding for the last 30 years is ready to be released. And it’s finally okay.