December 9, 2015

I Am Not Old - Just Well Seasoned

Recently, I read the results of a study asking people when someone was considered old. Not surprisingly, the answer depended on the respondent's chronological age. Youngsters placed those in their late teens as qualifying for that label. Young adults generally thought being 50 was the magic line. When reaching sixty, old became somewhere in the early 70's. Make it to 70, and one must be at least 80 to be considered old. All told, the average age for respondents was 68 - at that age one could be called old without too many arguments.

As someone who is about 18 months from that point, I protest. I am moving closer to my father's definition. He had determined that middle age extended until 125. Only then, did he or she enter old age territory. Dad died earlier this year at 91, still considering himself barely middle aged.

I am not willing to be quite that expansive, but those I know in their mid to late 60's are not "old age." They remain active, involved, fun to be with, engaged in the world, and many years younger in attitude than their actual age might imply.

I hate the overused "60 is the new 40" cliche because it is simply inaccurate. At 60 someone has much more life experience and maturity than a 40 year old. I would suggest the slogan should be the "60 is a new 60." To me that implies what we think of as defining a 60 year old must be scrapped and replaced with the new definition of someone entering their seventh decade. 

An expression I hear occasionally is the title of this post. It probably comes as close as any to describe what might be the most accurate definition of someone who is truly on a satisfying journey through retirement. The human body decays. The thinning hair (actually by now a bald spot) on my head, the wrinkles, the brown "liver spots"  on my arms and face, mark me as someone who is "getting up there," as folks used to say. But do I think of myself as old? Will I think of myself as old when I turn 68?

No. I see myself as aging but not old where it matters: in my relationships, engagement with life, desire to learn new things, and the chance to stick around this earth as long as the good Lord deems it appropriate. When it is my time to move on, I want to be satisfied that I didn't leave too much on the table, make too many enemies, and loved my life.

Maybe I am like a chuck roast (if you are a vegetarian, just go with my example!). This is a cut of meat that is sometimes hard to chew. It often lacks much taste. It is relatively inexpensive and not considered a prime cut of beef. But, with the proper seasoning, spices, meat tenderizer and a lot of care, it can be made quite tolerable, even tasty and appealing. 

We are not old based on a calendar or someone else's definition. We are old only if we stop living a full life while adding seasoning to the world around us.






21 comments:

  1. I like your Dad's definition.

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    1. It sounds better with each passing year.

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  2. To me, it is all about attitude and outlook in life. We've all met folks who are "old" before they even reach 40! Conversely, I have met people in their 80's who define "young at heart". To me, this is what really matters, and what makes the difference between a joyful life and a miserable life.

    Contentment, joyfulness, kindness to others, a giving spirit, a gentle soul, embracing differences in those around us with out judgement: these are all consistent with being young at heart. Yes, the body is aging, physical frailties may cause pain, suffering, or physical limitations. While not in any way minimizing these physical changes, a young at heart attitude toward others will bring immeasurable joy to those around us, and to ourselves!

    I like your description of aging where it matters; relationships, engagement with life, and desire to learn new things. You are a great example of someone young at heart!

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    1. Thanks, Carole. Frankly, I went through a period last week of a mini-depression. It seemed like my various physical aches and pains were conspiring to narrow my world and I was not a happy camper. Within a day I snapped out of it. But, it is important to realize (and accept) that our moods and attitudes are fragile. We must continue to focus on the positives in our lives.

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  3. I guess I look at it slightly differently (no surprise there).

    Yeah I am young at heart but I have led a full life. If my genes hold out I am looking at my last decade of life. Do I therefore consider myself old? Yep, I now look at the obituaries in my small town paper and see about as many younger than I as older. When that happens its time for an attitude adjustment. I can no longer put things off that I want to do. I need to do them now.

    Being young at heart but recognizing that I am old has its advantages in stifling procrastination. It is what it is....

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    1. RJ, I fight procrastination every single day. There is always tomorrow....except when there is not.

      Chronologically people would consider me old. But, importantly, I don't and that's what matters.

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  4. It's all relative, just as you say in your opening paragraph. And then there's the grey hair, which my friend refers to as chrome. As much as I love life, I'm glad to know there's an end. I will continue to keep on keeping on and in the words of Loretta Lynn, just try to matter

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    1. Loretta's advice is so important. Leave a legacy of just trying to make a positive difference. In today's fractured and nervous world that is not easy, but probably even more vital.

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  5. I agree that 60 is the new 60. Physically, I feel my age, mentally, no.

    There are commercials here for a nursing home, featuring staff lovingly indulging their clients idiosyncrasies. I think it was made to reassure the adult children that granny will be fine in the home. Annoys the hell out of me. Since when did aging mean you were to be treated like a wayward pet rabbit?

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    1. ...a wayward pet rabbit....love it, Jane. I completely agree: too often commercials portray us as addled, a little simple, or just goofy. Other cultures revere their seniors, America does not.

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  6. I have a different take on this, which is that I am fighting all the negative assumptions we have with "old." Who decided that "old" was a negative term? Why? As long as elders accept these assumptions and refuse to consider themselves "old," ageism will thrive. I'm inviting anyone reading this to join a revolution in our thinking about what it means to be "old." -Jean

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    1. I understand your point, Jean. In our society "old" does have negative connotations. It comes with very few positives. To change ageism we must change what that word implies. How? By being different from the stereotype. Only then will "old" be a chronological description and not a label.

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  7. I, too, will go with Loretta Lynn's philosophy -- just keep on keeping on.

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    1. By the way, nice USN&WR article, Tom.

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  8. I think age became more of a problem in our society when women had to join the workforce, life expectancy increased and Old Age became and Industry. Only too happy to join your revolution stepintofuture. The more we involve the young in the live of the old, the more successful it will be in counteracting ageism.

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    1. In many cultures around the world multi-generational housing and an extended family living together are normal and ageism is not nearly as prevalent. America was like that too, until urbanization and the Industrial Revolution sent the young to the cities and away from the family.

      My grandkids love being with us for everything. It is so valuable for them to interact with us on a very regular basis.

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  9. We are youth obsessed (by youth I mean age 25 to 35) and for good reason, this is when we are at our peak of physical and mental abilities. Personally I think we age every year until we hit 35 and then we just stay there adding on experience, in our own minds at least. But there is no denying that we do indeed age and believing anything else is just a fabrication to make us feel better, however, time marches on and the physical and mental changes continue year by year. I don't say this to be down in the mouth or see it as a negative thing but rather that we should enjoy each stage of life for it's own sake. There are rewards for having lived a life, experience, wisdom, tolerance, children and grandchildren to enjoy, if we are fortunate we have enough money to fully enjoy ourselves without having to sell our irreplaceable time to an employer each day.

    I just finished reading actuary Fred Vettese's new book The Essential Retirement Guide - A Contrarian's Perspective. Here's something from the book to think about for those who believe 60 is the new 40... "In a time when we are constantly being told that we are living so much longer than we used to, it may be hard to believe that the average person has little better than a 50-50 chance of making it from age 50 to age 70 without dying or incurring a critical illness. By critical illness I mean something really serious, such as life threatening cancer, cardiovascular disease, or kidney failure."

    The reality is that you are as old as you are, not as old as you think you are. Don't cheat yourself out of enjoying life in all it's phases. Me, I am old enough to be retired and it's the best time of my life!

    - David

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    1. Very well stated, David.

      Our chronological age is fixed - it is what it is. Our mental "age" and attitude are much more under our control and can dramatically affect our quality of life. Personally, except for correcting some mistakes and dumb decisions, I'd have no interest in going back to my 40's or even most of my 50's. I am quite happy with the satisfying journey I am on now.

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    2. I understand what people are saying but do we really want to be thinking the way we did when we were 25? The "optimism of youth" is a real thing (and I assume what people mean by "think young") but the "recklessness of youth" is just as real, it's the other side of the same coin. We need optimistic young people to push the boundaries, come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. Just as important is the contribution of those who've been around the block a few times. As the years go by we add to our mental "age" though experience and with the benefit of experience (one would hope) we can make better, more informed, decisions. It's called wisdom, a well known side effect of increasing your mental "age". When people say "think young" what I believe them mean is be open and optimistic and that is not age determined. For sure be optimistic, open to new ideas and experiences but also be wise, you've had to live a lifetime to get that way :-)

      - David

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  10. Well, my body is aging, but I've stopped coloring my hair because my silver curls look wonderful. I am as busy as ever; while I don't have the stamina I once had, or the very quick memory, I am better in some ways than years ago. I make friends more easily; I laugh more; I am more grateful. To my mind, this time of life (I'm 67) is one of the best ever. Not sure how I'd define "old", though; maybe it's a combination of state of mind and state of body.

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    1. You are not old under any definition, Linda. When we have a chance to meet in person you impress me as someone at the peak of her game-engaged and engaging.

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