Happy Birthday to me! today is my 52nd birthday which means I am more than halfway to my goal of living to be 100.
Recently a good friend was lamenting the loss of HER friend who had just died. In an attempt to ease her grief she said “I mean he WAS in his 50’s but still..” as if being in your 50’s made it clear that it wasn’t like he was dying young or anything! I laughed so hard reminding her that “um hello… I am in my 50’s?”
That brought to mind a couple of things
- I forget that I am older than most of the friends I have nowadays
- I forget that to people 10 or 20 years younger than me, I am older, perhaps even old!
- I do not perceive myself as older than them and certainly not as “old”
Men and Women and Aging
It also made me realize that there are a lot of articles (and a billion dollar industry) aimed at helping women navigate through aging but for some reason it rarely comes up for men. Men don’t get tips on how to feel as youthful or vibrant as they can because we are not supposed to pay attention to it. It is considered weakness to confess a vulnerability about aging like it is narcissistic in a self-indulgent way or unmanly or girly.
That would be fine if it weren’t for one simple issue: men worry more about aging than women do.
To be more specific: men worry more about what aging leads to: death. Guys might be more comfortable with their wrinkles (especially since the movies tell us that guys with wrinkles still get the 25 year old ingenue) but they are more likely than women to get depressed when they are reminded of their mortality.
I think that is because men are more programmed to live in the future and women are more programmed to live in the past with none of us encouraged to live in the present. Society programs men to keep pushing toward our goals, conquer the world, make a mark etc. and when we wake up and realize “oh this movie has an ending!” we discover the existential trap of living for the “then” and the “when” instead of the now. There is not enough time to climb all of the mountains that we can imagine. In truth, there is no winning here, there is only playing the game and we are simply not prepared for that fact.
My feeling is that if we should focus not on being youthful but rather being as vibrant and alive as we can be then we don’t have to fear aging at all.
Tips for Living Vibrantly
So I thought I would share some of MY tips for feeling as vibrant as I can. I had men in mind but I guess it applies to women too.
#1 Move – Keep moving your body. I admit I am NOT a big one for cardio exercise but I lift weights at least twice a week which helps me to feel strong. I doubt I am as strong as I think I am but it goes a long way toward making a guy feel connected to his body and alive. I also take a great class with Will at Yoga Yoga called Yin Yoga where instead of flowing at a rapid pace, you get into a pose and hold it for a long time. I always leave feeling like my tendons and cartilage have had a good shake up when I leave.
#2 Do the Scary Thing – I find that if I keep doing things that push me out of my comfort zone, not only do I learn something new but I get to experience that vulnerable-not-so-sure-and-certain feeling. Though we do everything we can to AVOID that feeling, it is really useful for keeping you vibrant and alive.
Recent scary things for me year were playing Frank N Furter (in drag!) for a fundraiser and giving a toast at my brother’s wedding. I was really nervous while I was thinking about doing these things but on the other side I was really grateful for the adrenaline rush it gave me to do something I wanted to do but was scared to.
#3 Channel Your Future Self – on the rare occasion that I do think about getting old I just add 20 years and ask myself for that man’s advice. For example today I am 52 my inner 72-year-old says “what a youngster!” “Whew! wish I could move around like that again” “Hey that’s me in the mirror before these big saddle bags under my eyes ha ha ha”
I believe that feelings follow your thoughts and if you want to change how you feel you have to change your thinking. And changing your thoughts is as simple as shifting how you perceive things.
#4 Hang Out with Children – I was a late bloomer in the parenting game and didn’t become a father until I was 44 years old. I highly recommend it later in life. Having a 7 year old at 52 forces me to run around like a lemur, talk in funny voices (well I guess I would have done that anyways), and continually drop the grown up world worries when my daughter comes into the room. If you are not a parent, uncle, aunt or grandparent I suggest you start hanging out in playgrounds (hmm well maybe that isn’t such a great tip) but there are youth organizations like the inclusive Baden Powell Scouts which could use your service and you will be glad you did (even if you are like me and lousy at camping). If you can’t commit to helping out kids in that way then at least take in a weekend matinee of a Pixar movie every once in awhile. At first it can be unnerving to hear all of the talking but if you can get past that it is a great way to give props to your inner kid.
#5 Celebrate Your Age – To me, being as vibrant as I can be is not about about pretending you are younger. Yes I do still wear my leather jeans on occasion and go straight to the Tony Hawk section of Kohls but I am not trying to turn the clock back. To me it is about redefining for yourself what it means to age.
My friend Theo once referred to me as the Silverback (like in a gorilla community) I thought that was cool. I don’t know that my extra years make me any wiser than my younger friends but they do give me a perspective that I am grateful for.
Defining Aging For Yourself
When I was my daughter’s age, my grandfather was MY age. He was a Grand pop complete with a pot belly and sedentary lifestyle. That was what a 52 year old was about back then but we can keep recreating these ideas if we want to.
Every day I wake up and say to myself “I am never going to be THIS young again!”. It serves to remind me to Be Here Now and since you can really ONLY be here now, it awakens me to the power of the present moment.
So whether you are just starting to think about aging, plagued with worry about it or simply looking for a new way to think about it, I hope you will experiment with my tips and see how they work for you.
Thank you for being a part of my birthday!