Over the hill, one foot in the grave, ancient, decrepit, feeble, antiquated, out-dated…these are all negative terms that are commonly associated with getting older. We see them on greeting cards and laugh at cranky stereotypes on sitcoms but it is truly unfortunate that we don’t spend more time focusing on the many positive benefits of the Third Age – older adulthood.
However, peoples’ perceptions of “old age” are rapidly changing. Thousands of people are turning 65 every day (1 every 8 seconds) and they are showing the world that the so-called winter of life doesn’t have to be cold, dreary and lonely. That you really don’t have to “go gentle into that good night” but can “rage against the dying of the light” as Dylan Thomas’ poem exhorts us to.
But more than just fighting against growing older is the power that comes with embracing your age, owning it if you will, and purposefully living life to its fullest. If you are already over 65 then you have been given a tremendous opportunity that you do not want to squander. This time can be the most rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful than any other time in your life…if you choose to make it so.
Here are some points to consider:
The Mature Mind: Did you know that your brain gets better in old age? It’s true. Advances in neuroscience have shown that the brain is very plastic, meaning that as long as you keep putting it to good use it will stay fit and healthy. Yes dementia gets a lot of attention for older people and I don’t want to downplay the devastating effects of this disease but dementia is NOT a normal part of aging. Dementia is a disease.
Research shows that older adults gain a wider perspective of problems and, combined with their years of experience, are able to offer a wider array of possible solutions showing different points of view. Some people may call this “wisdom”. Creative problem solving also improves as they are able to think much more “outside the box” than their younger counterparts. This is due, at least in part, to a phenomenon called bilateralization which means that older adults are able to tap into both sides of the brain at the same time whereas younger adults often use only one side of their brain.
One of my favorite reads on this topic is The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain by Gene Cohen. It will open your eyes to the truth about how the brain ages and I highly recommend it.
Priorities: An interesting thing happens when we realize that our time on this earth is almost over…clarity. Our life’s priorities come clearly into view so that we see the “big picture” of life. The unimportant begins to fall away as we pay more attention to that which really matters – family, friends, relationship with God, giving back, living with purpose, loving others and helping those in need, just to name a few. There is a sense of freedom that comes from this “new” perspective. We are free to truly be what God has always intended for us. It is no wonder that the older population is our country’s number one volunteer resource. There are so many good things in the world that are accomplished by older people and we expect that trend to increase even more over the next 20-30 years.
Time: My life right now is incredibly busy. I have 7 children at home, work full time and own several businesses. We spend a lot of time shuffling kids to sporting events, practices, Tae Kwon Do, birthday parties, school and everywhere else. I travel regularly speaking at conferences and leading workshops. Life is busy. I am sure you remember those days. Busyness and stress are the hallmarks of middle age. But then you reach the third age and the pace of life slows down dramatically.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that most older adults are still very, very busy BUT they are busy doing the things they want to do…teaching Bible class, traveling, volunteering, exercising, etc. With the stress and business of raising a family and getting ahead in a career you have much more control over how you spend your time. This creates an incredible opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream, pick up a new hobby, go back to an old hobby, start a new career, re-focus on your needs and desires, give back, explore the world and become the person you’ve always wanted to be.
Don’t believe the stereotypes of getting older that are all around us. Choose, instead, to take hold of the opportunities for reinvention and renewal that older adulthood offers. Nelson Mandela is a great example of how much can be accomplished later in life. He was elected president of South Africa at the age of 75 after spending 26 years in prison. He went on to become one of the world’s greatest leaders. Famous artist Grandma Moses didn’t even begin to paint until she was 76 and ended up producing more than 1,000 works over the next 25 years. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the series “Little House in the Big Woods”, didn’t publish her first book until she was 64.
These amazing individuals understood that age was not something that held you back but, rather, something that could propel you forward. You, too, can make a difference if you stop denying the inevitability of growing older, dismiss the negativity of old age and embrace your own potential. Renew your passions and interests that got away from you during the busyness of middle-age. Reimagine what you can be and what you can do. Reinvent yourself so that you become the person God has always intended you to be.
Cody Sipe, PhD