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Age is an interesting issue.
Many of the clients I’ve worked with worry about getting older and the significant “0” birthdays fill them with dread.
Others worry that they are too young and won’t have the experience or gravitas to be taken seriously. This is a very common belief in emerging managers who are really worried about managing others who are older than them.
In my experience age has far less to do with how many candles there are on the birthday cake or how mature we are than the beliefs we have about ourselves and the world and our attitude to life.
One thing is clear: being over 50 brings with it several very significant advantages if we choose to see them.
No. 1 We can let go of the angst about what others think
By the time we reach 50 the anxiety that we experience as youngsters around fitting in has lessened. Many teenagers many feel a desperate need to belong to an accepting peer group, to be part of the in- crowd. When left on the outside of the group it triggers a huge sense of isolation. This has been hot wired into humans since very early times when we were part of a clan, dressed in animal pelts and living in caves. Survival was dependent on being part of the collective group.
Isolation meant almost certain death. It was almost impossible to be able to hunt effectively or be protected from marauding rival clans and wild animals as a single body.
The very real agony young people experience when they feel excluded can be replaced as we get older with the realisation that just being us is enough.
Life has offered most of us the opportunity to learn that it is not the challenge which defines us but the way in which we approach and deal with it. Instead of designing our lives entirely on what others MIGHT think about us we have learned to trust our own inner wisdom and to follow it. This approach brings with it an enormous sense of freedom both spiritually and emotionally.
No. 2: 50 is the new 30
It was watching the Oscar ceremony a while ago and I was struck at how many of those attending were over 50 and had never looked better. The same thing is true of friends, family and clients. Yes, they may have more cellulite and gravity has had some impact on certain parts of their body but the negative impacts of time are more than compensated for by the sense of confidence which has developed through living half a century.
Modern technology, medical science and a very different standard of living from our parents and previous generations have provided us with the opportunity to learn life’s lessons without looking old.
Better health care has eradicated many of the diseases which either killed people or left them looking old and warn out has made a tremendous difference. There are those who have chosen to have surgery to help them look younger too.
Access to better nutrition, far more sophisticated skin care, greater awareness of the damage by sun or smoking have all helped to make people look young and vibrant for longer.
No. 3: We have the opportunity to lead more interesting lives than our forebears.
The opportunity to travel has never been greater. It’s not so long ago that only the very affluent had the opportunity to widen their horizons with travel. Most people lived and died a stone’s throw from where they were born.
Now, people travel far and wide, experiencing different cultures, having a wide range of amazing experiences.
There is the opportunity to stimulate the brain, to utilise our senses and to question and explore. We can engage our sense of adventure, our curiosity, enjoy our hobbies and pastimes in a very different way to those who came before us.
No. 4: As we grow older we move from being inexperienced and insecure into an age of mastery
Marianne Williamson says “Your youth has not been ended so much as your prolonged youth has been interrupted – not as some bum deal that comes at the end of the party, but as your salvation from ultimate meaninglessness your one last chance to get it right….. And whilst you might be feeling a bit depressed that you are no longer young, you’re ecstatic that you’re no longer clueless."
During the preceding decades we have learned a huge set of skills and gained a wide range of experiences. These enable us to understand it is all about perspective. Emotional mountains which have had the potential to challenge and unsettle can be downsized into molehills.
We have time and opportunity to challenge any beliefs which have limited us in the past. Whether we choose to do that is entirely up to each of us. As we become aware of any limiting belief it is our choice whether to hold on to it, or to challenge and change it for something far more empowering. I have known so many clients at around 50 who have made the active decision to overhaul their belief system and as a result have stepped into their true power.
No. 5: 50 seems to be a landmark when many people stop chasing material goals.
They recognise that more “stuff” will not create a sense of lasting fulfilment. They become more aware of finding their true purpose in life.
I think it is the time when many choose to redefine themselves as a “Human Being” rather than a “Human Doing”.
Early adulthood brings with it the need to succeed financially, professionally and personally. People spend years chasing the goals they set themselves. ( Many of them set so high that failure is almost inevitable)
When faced with the need to constantly prove equal to the challenges - professionally, within relationships, as parents it brings an undeniable set of pressures. These pressures keep us in constant motion always working towards a better job, a bigger house and often a greater and greater sense of disconnect and dissatisfaction.
How many people strive hugely to achieve their dream and when they arrive at their dreamed of location there is a sense of disappointment. “Is this it?”
By the time we reach half a century on this Earth the need to constantly prove things to ourselves and others begins to lose its momentum. It is in that slowing down we can finally appreciate that everything in life comes down to what is going on in that moment.
There is actually nothing else. We can only live our lives one moment at a time. Anxiety, worry, fear can keep us stuck in the past but the result is it destroys the potential of NOW. Constantly chasing the goals of the future without enjoying the NOW is like taking a journey to an unknown destination in a vehicle with no windows. By focussing only on the future there is no opportunity to enjoy the journey there.
How we choose to spend our lives moment by moment is what determines its quality.
Appreciating the many gifts our life offers us even when it is challenging, articulating gratitude for the natural world and the people we care about gives us a sense of fulfilment and joy.
So if you are approaching a significant other's birthday, take the time to celebrate the freedom that age and experience offer. You are starting a new and exciting chapter in your life.
It's time to choose to make the most of it.