Middle Age. Over the Hill. Past your Prime. Do these phrases inspire you to live a long, healthy and happy life? Me neither. I love the slogan of the organization Aging as Ourselves: “Age doesn’t define me; my attitude does”. It all sounds good, doesn’t it? But how the hell do we pull this off when we live in a land of Image Obsession and Body Perfection? Southern Californian culture tells us to be afraid of old age. We’ve made it such a terrible thing to get old.
Fearing aging sets us up for future misery. Unless we die, we’re gonna get older. The question is: HOW will we age? HOW will we cope with changes – both positive and negative? HOW will we feel about ourselves? Will we become calmer and happier or more neurotic and bitter?
According to Marianne Williamson, author of The New York Times bestseller: “The Age of Miracles: Introducing the New Midlife”,
“The need for change as we get older is a human phenomenon, neither male nor female. There simply comes a time in our lives—not fundamentally different from the way puberty separates childhood from adulthood—when it’s time for one part of ourselves to die and for something new to be born”.
What we have traditionally called “middle age” used to be seen as a turning point toward sickness, poverty and death. This is no longer true for us. “The New Middle Age” can be a radical turning point toward life as we’ve never known it, if we allow ourselves the power of an independent imagination (e.g., questioning old ideas about aging that were handed down to us) and see ourselves as just getting started at 45 or 50.
What we’ve learned by that time, from both our failures as well as our successes, tends to have humbled us and made us wiser. When we were young, we had energy but we were clueless about what to do with it. Today, we may have less energy, but we have far more understanding of how to use it.
Once we see that our youth is over, and we don’t have an infinite number of years left, it’s much easier to see what we want to do with the rest of our lives. If we’ve had a job/relationship/home that we hated for the past 20 years, can we let it go and move onto whatever’s next for us? Have we outgrown people, places and situations? Do we need to stay stuck in the same-old mediocre crap? Or can we use the motivation of middle age to kick ourselves in the butt and make changes?
Maybe it’s time to change what’s important to us: to shift from a life that emphasizes achievement and accumulation to a life of deeper meaning. In his book, “Ambition to Meaning,” Wayne Dyer urges us to let go of the stuff we are taught early in life by parents and society (a focus on money, power, fame and image) to instead create a life of meaning, focused on serving and giving back.
Williamson, Dyer and I are basically saying the same thing: “The New Middle Age” ain’t your mom and dad’s middle age. We can do it differently; we can see it as a time of great potential for happiness and fulfillment, not the next step to the nursing home. We are living in a time of great change: we can release old, limiting beliefs about growing older and learn new ways of thinking. As we do this, we will notice that loneliness, anger, fear and pain start to recede in our lives.
I close with a quote from 82-year-old San Diego author and publishing maven Louise Hay:
“I look forward to growing older. I choose to love myself at every age. Just because I am older, it does not mean I have to get sick. Every year of my life is special and precious and filled with wonders all its own. Being older is normal and natural. I have the power to change myself and my world. I no longer need to be a victim. I am willing to change. I am willing to empower myself and make positive changes in my life.”
How can YOU enjoy your new middle age?