Today I’m sharing a chapter I wrote for a book published by a global women’s organization. The book is Baby Boomers: Secrets for Life After 50:
AGE IS JUST A FRAME OF MIND
I was having dinner at a friend’s house a few years ago when the conversation turned to birthdays and getting older. Their 11 year old daughter, Kelsey, was intently listening, then all the sudden blurted out, “Mom has this friend, Linda, and she’s 50 years old, and she’s still alive!” The fact that Kelsey was amazed at someone still living at age 50 made me wonder how she would react if I had introduced her to my mother in law who was 89 at the time. Nevertheless, Kelsey’s small contribution to that conversation says something about the perception of aging. More often, than not, our image of someone is based on our position on the aging timeline and our perspective from that point. From the time we’re born until the day we pass from this life, we make choices and react to situations that are often tied to our awareness of our age, but there is good news for the aging and elderly. We can erase those perceptions and make ourselves timeless by changing one thing –our mindset toward age. I have seven tips below that will help you see yourself as never before.
- First and foremost, don’t allow others to define you. You are the best judge of you, and you have the most expertise on who you are. Having the right attitude is critical to how you present yourself and how others perceive you. For example, when I was 28, I remember a co-worker friend of mine spending her 30th birthday and the entire week prior to it teary eyed. She had been upset about nearing this age, and when the day finally arrived, she felt she was past her youth. I didn’t understand this type of thinking, so I wasn’t much help in comforting her. That experience left me viewing my friend as much older than me, despite our two year age difference. I saw her as older because she saw herself as exactly that. Someone in her life, somewhere along the way had defined aging to her as unpleasant and undesirable, and she allowed that definition to become part of her. She felt less beautiful and less vibrant. My parents had raised me to understand that beauty and youthfulness isn’t dependent upon anything external, or chronological, so I was sad for my friend. No matter how much those around her tried, no one was able to convince her she had youthfulness and value. Don’t place your value in a number.
- Thumb your nose at the mindsets of others. I have heard from others as the years pass is that they view aging as being one step closer to wrinkles, one step closer to aches and pains of aging, and one step closer to the end of our life. The only thing to look forward to is retirement. They live for it, then resent it when they do retire because they no longer feel valued. Don’t let these common mindsets be who you are. Sure, you may be getting closer to retirement, but put as much effort into planning how you will spend your time during those retirement years as you put into planning for it financially. It can be your opportunity to do something you are really passionate about, so don’t look at it as the end. Look at is as the beginning of your second set as in tennis. I’ve been working on my writing and speaking skills for years now. When I am finally able to retire, my plan is to transition from doing those two things part time to doing them full time. I’m excited about that. Plan something for your retirement years that you will be excited about as well and make that part of the joy of aging.
- Don’t focus on what you can’t control. Certain things are defined by our genes and others are defined by our lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, and spiritual development. It is true with each birthday, we get closer to the end of our life, but none of us really know when the end will come. When I was 27, I lost my first husband to a freak accident. He was only 29. Death knows no age, so why do we get so concerned about birthdays to the point some have even been known to lie about it. Don’t live your life tied to a chronological number on your aging timeline. It’s counter-productive and places you in a negative mindset. Think about aging differently than you ever have before. My two grandmothers lived until they were in their nineties. My mother in law from my second marriage passed away in January of 2013 at the age of 97. Each of these ladies worked until retirement and all three were active in their church and their community throughout their life. If you are a baby boomer, and you live as long as these ladies, you are barely past the halfway mark of your life now. Just think about how much longer you have to make a difference in this world.
- Forget about self-importance. If you have friends and family around you who love you, you are important enough. You don’t have to be important to the world as long as you have someone to love who loves you back. That is the best kind of importance in this life. Have you ever noticed on Facebook, or even when you’re in a group setting, when you share a humbling experience, or an insight, those are the stories that generate the most likes and the most interest? It’s not when you share vacation pictures, or places you are going. It’s when you’re doing an activity that impacts others on a deep level that elicits the most “likes” and generates the most interest. Impacting someone else’s life in positive ways is what excites others about what you are doing, and not that you had a makeover, or got a massage. We’re happy you’re taking care of yourself, but we’re not moved, or touched by it. Think about that for a moment. When we’re focused on self, it’s not a milestone event. When we are focused on the world around us, it engages others, sometimes prompting them to action as well. Selflessness makes us seem vibrant and beautiful to others. Be genuine in your selflessness. If your actions are forced and focused on things that make you appear to others as being successful both in your professional and your personal life, change that line of thinking. You’ll never measure up to the expectations of everyone you’ll meet and trying to do so can lead to dissatisfaction in what you have accomplished. This puts you at risk for the infamous mid-life crisis and may lead to actions that could leave you in a downward spiral. Making others believe you have wealth, prestige and power in this life, whether you do, or you don’t have those things is an exercise in futility. It will gain you nothing but stress and dissatisfaction with every passing year. Relax and be who you are in the moment. Others will appreciate you more for that, than your society-defined status in life, and that quality alone will be truly invaluable.
- With age comes wisdom, so continually focus on your personal development! Learn the latest fads in technology, but never stop sharing the knowledge of the older ways. No matter what your age, you have a lot to offer the world. As a baby boomer, you have seen the world of technology evolve. The younger generation may be tech savvy, but you were there when the technology craze originated. You’ve seen things develop and evolve in a way that will never occur again, and here’s the best part. When the electricity goes out during a storm, you’ll know how to handle the situation because you know the manual way of doing things, too! To illustrate, I was in a restaurant once where there was an issue with the cash register and the young person taking my order had to figure the change without the register calculating it for him. You would have thought this to be a monumental task for this teen. Let’s face it. They need us to educate them on the old ways as much as we need them to educate us on the new. The age of my friends is all over the board. I have some that are 10, or 15 years younger than me, and some that are 10 or 15 years older than me, with varying ages in between. I appreciate and value each one.
Often, we gravitate to relationships with others that are comfortable, so we tend to stick to those in our age group, and similar in profession and status. This is going to make us feel old for sure. Make friends with those younger than you so you can reap benefits of learning about the latest technologies and trends. Believe me, it’s much easier to get tips from the users of the technology, than to read those user manuals. Make friends with those older than you. They can teach you much about life’s experiences and what is important in life. They will help keep you grounded, and you, in turn, will help them feel young again. Laugh with them and laugh often. Laughter will keep you feeling young and will also ward off negative attitudes that can keep you from feeling youthful and vibrant.
- De-program yourself and rewire your buttons. From the beginning of our life, we’re told to act our age, yet we’re expected to act with the mannerisms of an adult when we’re a child. Subsequently, we’re treated like a child throughout our teen years, then not given a great deal of respect through college years because we’re deemed “young and inexperienced”. When we finally get to middle age, fear begins to permeate our thoughts. Fear runs the gamut of emotions such as feelings of being too old to have children, too young to be a grandparent, too old to go out and have a good time with your friends, too young to retire, and most of all, too old to achieve new things, so we often stagnate. Take risks. Try new things. Not necessarily with your life, but with experiences. So what if you fail? At least you tried. I was recently pulled into an issue at work, and resolving the issue propelled me into new territory in my job responsibilities. Figuring it all out took extra time and effort on my part, and I was happy to do it. I was experiencing something new that was much like working a puzzle. The real payoff for me came when we were in strategy planning via video conference and I realized the far-reaching impact I was making globally. There were four locations and time zones participating in this video conference. I was sitting in a video conference room in Midwest USA during the time I would normally eat lunch. One of the locations was in South Africa, with the two gentleman participants were sitting in front of a window. Looking past them, I noticed the surrounding landscape and a fog settling over it. It kept getting fainter and fainter, until all I could see was a reflection of those gentlemen in the glass. It was then I realized I had just watched the sunset in South Africa live from the US. It certainly wasn’t the most beautiful one I’d ever seen, but it was the most extraordinary. All the wealth, prestige and power in the world couldn’t have compared with that breathtaking moment when I watched this event quite by accident. Had I not taken on something new, I would not have experienced that unique and memorable event.
- Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Look at Sophia Loren. She’s 80+ years old and gorgeous. Good genes have a lot to do with how you look, but there is so much you can control about your appearance by simply eating right, drinking plenty of water, exercise, and taking care of your skin. Eat things that are healthy for you at least 80% of the time. Learn about the benefits of whole grain vs. white bread, natural peanut butter vs. regular, and the benefits of fruits and vegetables on your body as a whole. Build your knowledge on the adverse effects from processed foods and sugar laden products. I know it’s difficult sometimes to pass up that occasional bowl of triple chocolate chunk ice cream, or that piece of homemade pumpkin pie –just don’t indulge daily, or even weekly. Sugar can make you sluggish, less alert and lead to more severe health problems. Eating unhealthy can take its toll not only on your skin and its appearance, but also on your joints and how you feel overall. While some foods may give you a quick energy boost, the same foods can zap your energy later in the day.
Stop worrying so much. Worrying is an age accelerator. I have some friends and family members who worry often and worry about everything. There’s always something to worry about, and it’s always magnified in the eyes of the one doing the worrying and feeling the stress. My granddaughter often spends the night at our house and I’ll always remember the night she woke up crying in the middle of the night. She was three at the time. I picked her up and cuddled her and said, “What’s wrong, angel.” She said, “Gram, I had a bad dream”. Now, I’m thinking monster under the bed, or something scary in the closet, so preparing to comfort her, cuddled her a little closer and said, “Tell Gram all about your bad dream”. Still sniffling, she managed the following sentence: “I couldn’t get the pink gumball.” I almost laughed, but that would have only made things worse. In her mind, this was a big deal. She was dreaming that she was trying to get the color gumball she wanted out of a gumball machine, and it was stressing her out. No matter what age you are, there will be something that worries you and stresses you out. I urge you to think about the things that are worrying you and decide if there isn’t a better use for your time. you will decelerate the wrinkling process by eliminating unnecessary worries and stress. These seven tips will hopefully help you see yourself in a new light and appreciate your inner beauty as much as your outward beauty. My favorite author, Cecil Murphey, once reminded attendees at a writers’ conference that we are each an unrepeatable miracle of God. Embrace that and be beautiful in the moment –from the inside out.
Baby boomers, go forward with confidence that you have much to offer and a lot of potential going forward. Don’t stop living life and experiencing new things. Don’t fear change, lead it. Leading it means you can impact the outcome. We change our hair, our wardrobe, and the décor in our home, but when it comes to change at our jobs, or life changes, it tends to leave some of us feeling uncomfortable and resistant – especially those who are older and more set in their ways. We were raised in a generation where a high school diploma was all that was needed to land a good job, then we stay with that company for the duration of our life, hoping to climb that ladder to the top and retire from that job with our gold watch and plaque for years of service. This is not the way of the business world now. It constantly evolves, companies continually restructure, and it’s not something that should give you the feeling of instability. Change should be exciting because it denotes company growth, rather than corporate stagnation. Through change, learn the art of flexibility. Resistance to change will only be a source of frustration for you. Dolly Parton summed it up best when she said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose”. You can define who you are, and if that means slight changes in your life that make you happy, great. If it means significant changes, awesome! Just never let age be a factor in your decisions. You’re never too old to learn and never too old to accomplish much. Bask in being a baby boomer. With that label comes wisdom, knowledge and power to be who you are and set the example for generations that follow