The American way of aging, bogged down in stultifying tradition and outmoded conventional wisdom is changing, thank goodness. But it’s going to be a long time before our culture has the guts to trash what doesn’t make sense anymore.
As early as age 50 an accelerating number of messages, subliminal and otherwise, start to assault your consciousness with the suggestion that “the end is near.” Everything from invitations to join AARP to dire warnings about impending problems and pitfalls of aging are relentless reminders that you are getting old and senile.
You begin to respond to those messages; you start to look for signs of your own decline. After enough people offer to help you do things you could well do for yourself, or they make remarks that suggest you are not as capable as you used to be, you do begin to question your mental and physical competence.
You begin to think, “Gee, I think I’m doing great, but am I kidding myself? What kind of decline do others see in me that I am not aware of?. Maybe I’m not as capable as I think I am.” This kind of thinking is deadly and debilitating. You have to guard against well-intended but unwelcome comments and concerns of others, as well as your own negative self-doubts.
Here is an example of how we contribute to our own decline: A momentary memory lapse, which every one of every age experiences, results in a panicky “I’m having a senior moment.” Allowing yourself to say you are having a “senior moment” has consequences. You are telling and teaching yourself to accept decline. I have never heard a forgetful teen explain away a memory lapse with “Ooops, I’m having a teen moment. Youth doesn’t sweat occasional memory lapses. Neither should we.
The advent of age 60 really fires up the “getting old” wrecking ball. Even before retirement age, we begin to participate in traditional senior activities, just to keep in step with what older friends are doing. It’s an initiation into the senior culture without being aware of it. It tells the subconscious that you are letting go of life.
While it’s good news that more mid-lifers are not buying into the traditional aging process — refusing to slow down, fall into line, give up and adopt the traditional senior lifestyle, much more consciousness raising is in order. Real progress is not coming fast enough.
Productive older people often adamantly refuse to reveal their age, fearful of age discrimination, or annoying patronizing comments such as “Isn’t she wonderful for her age?” or “Isn’t it amazing what he is still able to do?” Expressions of amazement for older competence are demeaning. Mature adults should be valued and appreciated for whatever they do without consideration of age.
Productive post retirement people need to help raise awareness that productive aging should be accepted on an equal basis with traditional retirement, and preferably, held up as the ideal.
If you are at mid-life, and on the fence about “should I or shouldn’t I retire” — that is an indication there is still a fire in the belly that needs stoking. Don’t ignore it. Your future happiness depends on decisions you make now.
The traditional American way of aging is a crock. You can buy into or opt out of it as you choose. Decide to make the right choice now while you still have time.