Two weeks ago I turned 30-years-old. In the build-up, I felt good. I felt pleased with the direction of my life, my career, my personal growth. I felt content with my relationships and my place of living. I am generally someone who enjoys the aging process, I thought.
The big day arrived. I celebrated modestly with a few close friends. I enjoyed a Zoom call with my family. All well, all good. I’ve made it through this transition unscathed. After all, I’m someone who enjoys the aging process…
Then — it struck. A few days after the big day, thoughts surfaced that felt alien to me. Suddenly, my perspective on life shifted. I was overcome by doubt; on where I’m investing my energy, my creativity, how I spend my time, my life direction.
I didn’t escape the fabled quarter life crisis. Throughout this process, I had to confront certain myths about ageing and make a choice to view things differently. This article is the result of soul-searching for solutions to these myths, and in doing so, I offer a different perspective on aging.
1. You should feel like an “adult”
In some ways, I feel mature. In other ways, I don’t. There are still times in life where my instinct is to WhatsApp my mum and ask her for help. For example, I’ve just moved into a new apartment. It’s the first time I’ve lived alone. Recently, I bought a washing machine! That’s pretty high up there on the adulting 101 handbook.
Except, there was an issue with the electricity cord, so I needed to move the machine closer to the power supply. I succeeded in moving the machine, alone, and celebrated but putting on a cycle… only for the machine to vibrate so violently I was convinced it’d fly out the window and beat Space X’s mission to Mars.
This DIY mishap reminded me,there is no such thing as being an “adult.” There are areas to develop, mature, grow, learn. There are other areas we might feel completely out of our depth and need support, TLC, words of encouragement. That’ll never go fully and that’s okay — there’s a beauty in caring for the inner-child which still lives in all of us.
2. Age equals wisdom
There’s an unconscious bias in linking wisdom with age. Simply living through experiences must make someone wise and mature, right? Well, wisdom is learning from experiences, and applying those lessons. Someone can have the same experience one hundred times, but without learning from those experiences, there is no growth and no added wisdom.
It’s possible to live to the age of 100 without questioning beliefs or biases or viewing the world narrowly. Equally, it’s possible to be in your 20s and learn from every lesson life presents. This myth is important because it encourages you to look to learn at any age, without expecting wisdom to develop passively.
By taking this approach to life, aging becomes an opportunity to experience more, learn more, and grow more.
Watch this Goalcast video because there is no right age to chase your goals:
3. “It’s all downhill from here…”
Viewed through a certain lens, the aging process may feel like a downward spiral. I vividly remember a conversation I had with a dinner lady (a British term for a canteen worker) at school. I was in primary school preparing to finish Year 3. I was 8 years-old. Reflecting on the end of this chapter, the woman told me: “school years are the best of your life, make the most of it.”
Here I am, eight-year-old Ricky, about to have my first existential crisis. I better make the most of the next few years because by the time I’m 16 my life is essentially over!
This attitude isn’t uncommon. But it’s a perspective. And the myth is that youth is where the fun is, that they’re the best years of your life. But we have a choice to make every stage, every chapter, every decade the best of our lives. I loved my 20s and all the experiences that came with it. But I know myself so much better at the age of 30 than 20, and that makes me excited for the decade to come.
When I reach 40, I want to feel my 40s will be the best decade of my life. Then my 50s, then 60s, and so on. And why not?
4. You should be…
You should be financially stable. You should be in a career you know you’ll be in for some time. You should be with a partner you’re committed to and possibly looking to the future. You should be saving. You should. Should. Should. Should.
The conventional path of expectations, the house, kids, marriage, financial security, creates an abundance of “shoulds”. Always question “should” statements. They aren’t realities but indicators of an alternative reality, a cookie-cutter storyline of the way life should be.
Life is about continuously learning and evolving. You’re here to create your own path, find your own way, live life on your terms. It’s never been easier for a generation to skip the expectations and find a way of living that feels right and unique.
It’s okay to not have everything figured out. Experiment. Play. Explore. But there is a caveat: if any of the conventional “shoulds” surface, pay attention. It could be they’re surfacing due to societal expectations. But these beliefs might be worth exploring.
For example, if you’re concerned about your financial situation, it might be your subconscious alerting you to the fact that, whether we like it or not, there are certain financial realities, and it might be time to develop financial skills to start saving or clearing debt.
5. You’ll feel older as time goes on…
The power of the mind is phenomenal. If you resign to the aging process, believe your health will deteriorate, believe your best days are behind you or life has already reached its peak, that’s the reality you’ll live. Society is ripe with myths about the aging process which we internalise, largely without questioning.
But are they true? The term conscious aging has surfaced in recent years, with work developed to challenge these assumptions. And they are assumptions. The truth is: you’re only as old as you feel. The spirit within us all is ageless. And it’s the spirit that’s the source of energy and vitality.
6. …and ageing is a one-way process
Psychologist Ellen Langer’s groundbreaking research demonstrates how age is largely a mindset, and the process of ageing can even be reversed. Her most famous experiment grouped together eight men in their 70s into a monastery in New Hampshire. The environment was designed to recreate the year 1959 — full with vintage radios, magazines and books, TV shows, all from that year.
The participants were told to “make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years ago” as they spent time in this constructed past. By the end of the experiment, all the participants demonstrated better cognition and emotional wellness. Most striking, they had increased dexterity, better posture, looked younger, and even had improved eyesight!
Langer’s research shows how attitude can reverse the effects of ageing. Ultimately, aging is what you make of it. Although there are many myths about the process, there’s an opportunity to make your own reality a lived experience.
There will naturally be times where the process feels difficult. There will be moments of grief and loss and anxiety. But by challenging myths and assumptions it’s possible to age gracefully, learn and grow, create new expectations.
As for me, I’ll update you on my process when I’m approaching 40.
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