For a lot of people, myself included, getting older is something that happens to other people.
But, as someone who recently turned fifty-two, I’m beginning to realize that it may just happen to me too.
I’m not upset by the idea, but it has given me pause for thought.
I’m more concerned about my health than I used to be and I find myself taking stock more than I used to, as well.
If I really want to be a better human or leave behind a legacy beyond my capacity for consuming baked goods, I need to up my game. I can no longer rely on time, as I clearly have less of it than I did 10 years ago.
I’m excited by the challenge that ageing gracefully presents, but I get not everyone feels this way. For some, the mere thought of turning 50 (or even 40, for that matter) has them breaking out in hives.
That’s understandable, given how we’re constantly bombarded with ‘younger is better’ messages from the media, on social media, at the movies and even in our living rooms.
Getting Older Is What You Make of It
The thing is, getting older is actually quite a lot of fun. Granted, you have to be in good health to really appreciate the years adding up, but then, that’s true of any age.
If that’s what you’re after, you’ll have to ask Google.
What each of these talks will do, however, is inspire you to take a different perspective on getting older. If nothing else. they’ll show that you’re nowhere near your sell-by date.
1. How I Became an Entrepreneur at 66 by Paul Tasner
Proving that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, Paul Tasner waited until the ripe old age of 66 to found his own startup. Paul spent 40 years working for someone else, but thanks to being let go (although it didn’t seem like good news at the time), he decided to take a chance on himself and start his own business. Now in its seventh year, PulpWorks, Inc continues to go from strength to strength as it strives to mould a better world.
2. Older People Are Happier by Laura Carstensen
As the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity and someone who has studied extensively the effects of wellbeing over extended lifetimes, Laura Carstensen knows a thing or two about what makes older folks tick.
In previous centuries the average human life span was significantly shorter, but have the added years we now enjoy increased our quality of life? It turns out the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Research shows that older people are happier, more content and have a more positive outlook on the world.
That’s certainly true for Sporty and me.
3. Life’s Third Act by Jane Fonda
In her illuminating talk, Jane Fonda —who turned eighty-two in December— has some wonderful ideas for how we can best use the extra 30 years that have been added to our life expectancy. As she so rightly says, these years aren’t just a footnote. We need to re-imagine this new phase of our lives and make it really mean something.
We’re still living with the old paradigm of age as an arch: you’re born, peak at mid-life and then decline into decrepitude. Jane believes a more appropriate metaphor for ageing is a staircase: the upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness and authenticity.
4. Let’s End Ageism by Ashton Applewhite
Ashton Applewhite wants us to think differently about getting older. We need to challenge the assumption that older people are alike and that ageing impoverishes us. As she so rightly points out, ageing is a natural, lifelong, powerful process that unites us all.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the majority of us view getting older. Instead, we unthinkingly assume that it’s fraught with depression, diapers and dementia. This attitude is due to ageism, something Ashton claims is the last socially sanctioned prejudice.
Given what we see in the media every day, it’s hard to argue with her.
Ashton wants to catalyze a movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind. She’s written a book called This Chair Rocks if you want to find out more.
5. 12 Truths I Learned From Life and Writing by Anne Lamott
A few days shy of her 61st birthday, writer Anne Lamott decided to jot down everything she knew for sure. She says there’s so little truth in popular culture, it’s good to be sure of a few things.
Anne reminds us that our inside self is outside of time and space. It doesn’t have an age, rather, we’re every age we’ve ever been. Anne’s talk is funny, poignant, wise and down to earth, and her truths are proof that with age comes wisdom. A lot of it.
Added Bonus: What I Learned From 2,000 Obituaries by Lux Narayan
While not specifically about ageing, I’ve included Lux Narayan’s talk as an added bonus because it serves as a powerful reminder of what a life well-lived means. The founder of Unmetric starts his day with scrambled eggs and the question: Who died today?
Why? Because, as he rightly points out, the front of the newspaper is filled largely with bad news, highlighting man’s failures. Whereas the end of the paper —the obituaries— highlight man’s accomplishments.
Over a 20-month period, Narayan analyzed 2,000 New York Times obituaries and gleaned, in just a few words, what achievement looks like over a lifetime. It turns out those immortalized in print can teach us a lot about a life well-lived.