“Where did this AARP membership card come from, and how did it get my name on it?”
The fifties. Really? Me?? My glib comeback to anyone who asks is “Well, it beats the alternative, right?” My honest response is more contemplative, and as I moved into this decade my thoughts evolve around acceptance of this new category I found myself in. Talking with friends and clients, I see I am not alone in examining what moving into the fifties means.
What I hear from others is that getting older impacts many areas in life. The physical, emotional, chemical (hello hormones!), our work lives, and life changes like kids and parents growing older too. It can be challenging to find a lot to celebrate about this time in our lives, when we realize we may have more years behind us than ahead of us.
I silently cheer every time I see a media star featured as fit, sexy, and beautiful after 50. Thank goodness our society is beginning to take some baby steps away from the idea that after 22 it’s all downhill, especially for women. The fact remains our bodies change, our skin shows signs of wear and tear, extra pounds creep up, gray hairs seem to multiply overnight. We compare cholesterol levels with friends and find that spicy food may no longer be our friend.
The good news is, fellow Baby Boomers, there are millions of us out there. I see more and more sites like Aging Abundantly and Sex after 40, all celebrating this amazing age. We may have more years behind than ahead, but the wisdom, life experience, and compassion we bring to those years are invaluable.
The term “mid-life crisis” is thrown around a lot, sort of a punch line or an explanation for deviant behavior. Some people in mid-life do experience emotional crisis. Children growing up and leaving home, parents aging, increasing competition in the workforce, and health issues are some events that can trigger an emotional upheaval. The truth is, however, that a life crisis can occur at any age. For every man in his fifties who buys a shiny new red convertable to recapture the carefree days of youth, there is a 25-year-old with a new Masters degree and a head full of self doubt and worry about what the future holds. No age is immune from crisis of identity. It is true that aging brings physical changes that can make us vulnerable to emotional ups and downs. Menopause is a good example. When your body’s chemistry is shifting, your emotions are probably going to shift with it until balance is regained. Keeping up with exercise, a healthy diet, and regular check-ups with your doctor can help you find your balance that much sooner.
I worked as a Career Counselor for several years prior to becoming a psychotherapist, and yes, there can be age discrimination in the workplace. I coached many 50+ job seekers and nearly all expressed dread at competing with twenty-somethings in the workforce. On the other hand, I found many employers who were eager to hire someone they perceived as stable, mature, with a wealth of life experience. My work with job seekers in midlife covered not only standard interviewing skills, but included personal coaching to improve self image and ways to help them see that in many cases, age could work in their favor.
Let’s face it – in the media we don’t see a lot of happy, healthy people in midlife. When a 50-year-old is on a TV commercial, chances are it’s to promote a pill for bone loss, intestinal dysfunction, or impotence. Not particularly sexy. A quick reality check – people who are sexual in their twenties are likely to stay that way into their fifties, sixties, and beyond. Our most important sex organ is the brain – self image starts there. If you are feeling good about yourself, that will impact your sexuality. Sex may change with age, but the quality of intimacy can actually improve.
These are some of the issues facing Baby Boomers today. Let’s hope that society begins to change its stereotyped view of the 50-year-old. More than that, let’s support one another as we move into this decade and beyond. No matter what your age, continue your journey of self-exploration, growth, and joy in your life. When that AARP card with your name on it arrives, use it, toss it, or just have a laugh at how far you have come. Then get out there and live each day to its fullest.