Every year like clockwork it happens, the pre-birthday meltdown, where I question where my life is going and wonder if I’m doing enough to make it count. The meltdown comes out of nowhere. Sometimes it hits during a quiet night at home with the cats, or maybe a sentimental birthday card brings it on. Regardless, it’s a time for me to pause and reset, sort out what works and what I need to change.
I was trying to figure out where all this age angst comes from and I think it started in college, when my two closest girlfriends and I were freaking out while watching many of our very early-twenties friends walk down the aisle. Somewhere along the way we developed a timeline of what we knew would happen in the next ten years. I can report to you today that the timeline has been utterly shot to hell for all of us. This isn’t a bad thing because the three of us are doing well and making our way in the world, just not in the timeframe we thought we would.
So every year when the inevitable birthday rolls around, my inner mean girl starts chiding me about all the things I haven’t done yet. Those “30 under 30” lists of spectacular achievers that magazines love to rub in our faces every year serve to make me feel like I have not achieved enough, am not successful enough, am not in the stage of life that I should be at this age. It’s ridiculous!
A woman I worked for as a teen just turned 90 last month and she is someone I admire in a major way because she has always taken life by the horns. When her husband passed away a couple of years ago, she saw it as an opportunity to travel the world, visit her kids across the country, and seize this newfound freedom the season in life had given her. She sent a postcard from Holland last year. She still goes to New York City with the seniors to take in the occasional show. She keeps up with her stocks, knows her finances, and never forgets to feed the birds outside her screen porch. The woman is amazing, her outlook on life is positive, and in spite of five hip replacements, age has not diminished her ability to live.
My grandmother, also about to turn 90, bravely moved out of her home into a new place this year so she can continue to live independently. She watches the Grammys every year, reads voraciously (loves a good 500 page biography), tends to her houseplants like they are her children, and has a mad crush on Willie Nelson. I hope that if I live to be 90, I keep on living.
Lines etched into the skin by years of laughter speak to a beauty no amount of plastic surgery could ever bestow.
I think society has played a major role in this confusion about what aging should be. Thanks to the media and the severe lack of reality in celebrity lifestyles that grace the cover of every magazine, it’s hard to tell what 50, 60, or 70 really looks like. We are subliminally brainwashed by everything we see into believing that without youth, beauty is illusive. There are so many rules for women as we age. Don’t wear miniskirts after 35, cut your hair short at 40, don’t wear shimmery makeup, don’t have bangs, don’t wear certain colors of lipstick. Who on earth came up with this stuff?
And then there’s the whole Botox versus fillers conversation, or when to get a facelift, or maybe just an eyelift? A tummy tuck here or a breast lift there? Yet in spite of all the effort, these cosmetic “fixes” do nothing to improve a person’s appearance if they lack beauty on the inside. When a woman has love in her heart, it shows on her face. Lines etched into the skin by years of laughter speak to a beauty no amount of plastic surgery could ever bestow. Inner peace and joy make a person glow from the inside out.
I will tell you, I have seen gorgeous women in their 70s with long hair, women in their 40s wearing miniskirts, and my rockin’ boss in her 60s sports silver sneakers and a tote that says “I Heart Hip Hop.” Thank goodness for the rule breakers, the women who refuse to let a number define how they should look and what they should wear. They are shining examples that it’s not style, but spirit, that defines you, by the willingness to be yourself in your own skin without bending to someone else’s rules.
It’s always a little frustrating to me when people say things like, “60 is the new 50, or 30 is the new 20.” Why can’t 60 be 60, and be ok? Why does 30 have to be 20? All that does is send the message that where you are isn’t good enough, that the age you happen to be would be better if it had 10 years shaved off of it. If we think of life as a journey the last thing we’d want to do is turn back and lose miles of ground and years of wisdom through lessons learned. Of course, we all have things we wish we could have done better, or not done at all, but taking 10 steps back is not the answer to having peace with where you are.
A man I know here in Nashville just turned 80 this past week. He danced with all the ladies at his birthday party and gave a speech about not counting the years, and instead of focusing on the number, look at what you can still do. Look at where you are in life, be grateful for all the things you have yet to accomplish, and then go do them with gusto.
So this year, I am making a resolution… screw New Years, birthdays are the real moments to start over. It’s like saying, “Hey, Life, on this day that you decided I should be born, I resolve to start a new chapter, a rebirth if you will, of creativity, passion, and confidence.” This year I resolve to embrace the season I am in, to capture each moment, to celebrate joy in the lives of my friends, and to consciously savor the blessings in my own, all while losing count of the candles on the birthday cake.