I have good news and bad news for people who dread aging. The bad news will be hard to hear. You will get old. You will look old. There will be wrinkles, coarse grey or white hair (or less hair), teeth will get yellowish, and you will look perpetually pale. It’s gonna happen. Now you can order a bunch of expensive creams and dyes and even add some colour from various containers but you will still look old. And it gets worse, you are dying. Yup, every year you are closer to death. And eventually you will find you will have less energy or stamina or focus. So it all seems very bleak.
But if you are truly paying attention there is one very important piece of information you can absorb and it will propel you to happiness, in spite of age and impending death. “It’s not all about you!” Repeat that over and over, for effect. If you can get to a point where you actually believe it you will begin to discover that a lot resentment and worry and frustration suddenly leave your body and you begin to feel lighter. Why? Because suddenly the lens you use to determine fairness and how others are behaving and where you fit into the depth chart of achievement does not matter. None of it matters. Who cares who has what when you know you are going to die? Who cares what the person down the street has in relation to me and what I have or don’t when I am aware of my mortality?
There is a liberating feeling when you know no one is looking at you expect to wonder if you qualify for a senior’s discount. There is a lift in one’s step when you know the only real responsibility you have is to care for loved ones, do right by your neighbor and find what makes you happy. It is not your responsibility to be loved or famous or right or get what you deserve or get what others have. None of that matters. In death we learn that most of what we are anxious about, worry for, matters not a hill of beans to anyone. What matters is how we care for those whose wellbeing is entrusted to us, how we leave this place better than we found it and how and what we find to be happy. So get on with it. Time is ticking.
When we are younger there is power in feeling attractive, ambitious and driven. I think these are good things. Sadly they do eventually pass. But the expectations, the entitlements, the resentments, the comparisons, the need to accepted and affirmed, they can pass too. And that is a release we can afford to make. And with these transformations come perspective and insight and wisdom. We may lose attractive, ambition and drive but we gain self-awareness, access to joy and the ability to be yourself as often as you wish. What a gift to be alive.
I know there are still things I must do, there are things I must try harder to do and there are things people expect me to do that are reasonable to expect from me. I know this. Getting older does not eliminate these expectations altogether. But it is amazing how many things simply evaporate from my to-do list when I decide I no longer have to strive to be what others want me to be or what I think I need to be to be “acceptable” or “successful”. Knowing the basics that form my relationships to loved ones and neighbor and world is essential but being able to separate these from that ridiculous list given to us that is born of convention and grievance and entitlement is liberating beyond words.
Getting old is not fun. It can be painful and depressing. But it is worth remembering that aging does offer the opportunity to gain perspective, that it is not all about you. Instead your happiness might just be available in a container that no one else wants to open, that is of interest to no one but you and one you can enjoy without ever thinking who has what and how much.
56 and there is so much more to learn.