I hear it a couple of times every week: “Getting old is a bitch!”
Or the overworked, less profane version: “Getting old isn’t for sissies!”
Occasionally, someone will resort to an attempt at the comedic approach and borrow the classic: “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
I’m not saying it’s pandemic, but it’s bumping up against it with my demographic peer group. I’m a septuagenarian (for you Pittsburgh Steelers fans, that means I’m in my seventies).
I know, if I don’t like it then stop talking to the complainers. I get it. But that’s not an option for me. I’m out to change attitudes in this demographic, so continued engagement is part of my quest.
I’ll admit, however, there are a few in that ever-widening group that merit reconsideration for future conversations. You know the type – the ones that are so negative about their age-related problems that you come away having a big chunk of the remaining oxygen sucked out of your own dwindling supply of positive about aging.
And then there are conversations about surgeries.
Holy crap, am I the only one that can’t avoid a conversation with a fellow second-halfer that doesn’t evolve into a long litany of completed and/or impending surgeries? I recently had coffee with a good friend who I hadn’t seen for about 18 months. My hopes for an invigorating conversation of substantive topics – which we have had in the past – quickly slid into a recap of his knee replacement, impending hip surgery, and his wife’s shoulder replacement and a few other physical infirmity issues I don’t recall because I tuned them out.
To top it off, we ran into a mutual friend and that conversation centered totally on his multiple surgeries since we had last seen him.
I came away with nothing more than coffee breath, two lost hours and 15 more miles on my similarly aged Explorer odometer.
Since my last surgery was fifteen years ago and it was just a thumb ligament repair, I find myself on a bit of an island in a lot of conversations when sexagenarians and above get together – or chat it up by phone.
Should I expect different attitudes? Perhaps not. It’s a product of three things, it would seem.
One, our venture beyond middle-age today is putting us into unfamiliar territory. We haven’t been here before – living this much longer. One hundred years ago, we checked out around 50, mostly succumbing to what retired Stanford geriatric physician Dr. Walter Bortz refers to as “lightning events” i.e. infectious diseases, injuries/accidents, malignancies, poisonings, wars.
Not so much today.
Second, that same medical establishment that stamped out many of those lightning events now has gotten really good at propping us up when we slump and extending us on into what is, for many, an extended period of agony and reduced mobility.
Third, much of our boomer and pre-boomer demographic have mental hard-drives crowded with outdated and inaccurate perceptions of the aging process.
To appreciate and realize full-life potential calls for a serious defrag.
Here are three myths, models, and messages that we boomers and pre-boomers seem to cling to that hold us back from making the second-half/third act the most productive and fulfilling time of our lives, including my two-cents worth on each:
- Myth #1: Aging equals infirmity
I’ve written before about the reaction people have when I tell them of my intent to live to 100 (recently revised up to 112 1/2 because my quest is growing and I need more time). Repulsion is the prevalent reaction. The mind’s eye immediately envisions urine-scented nursing homes, degraded function, frailty and loss of independence – at worst, dementia, drool and Depends.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. A Pew Research Group survey revealed that only 8 percent of us show interest in living to 100. Sad.
Pew research, however, also tells us that, despite the disinterest, the centenarian population will grow eightfold by 2050.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Mario Martinez, in the research for his book The Mindbody Code, did extensive analysis of healthy centenarians across varied cultures. His research tells us that we can “ – modify ‘aging consciousness’ in a society that does not support growing older for what it is; an opportunity to increase your value and competence.”
One of the central themes he found among healthy centenarians everywhere was their defiance of disempowering cultural portals (beliefs) and “- a conviction to question what does not personally make sense to them” and to “- choose healthy defiance of the tribe where others opt for unhealthy compliance with it.”
In other words, not going with the crowd while sticking their finger in the eye of automatic senescence.
Our culturally-imbued vision of old age is wrong-headed. Too often, it puts the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy into play and ignores – even denies – the fact that much of how we age is subject to intervention and under our control.
It’s never too late to put life-extending habits in place; it’s always too early to keep the bad ones alive. Our bodies will respond to proper treatment at any age.
- Myth #2: My DNA is my destiny
My wife and I did a simple exercise about 35 years ago that appeared in the Parade magazine insert in our Sunday newspaper (remember those?). It suggested that we could predict our lifespan by averaging the ages of our parents and grandparents. Based on the results, she’s been dead for seven years and I’ve been dead for eleven.
Currently, neither of us appear close to dead.
That little exercise spoke to the level of scientific understanding of the role of genetics that existed at the time. The belief that genetics drive our health and longevity continues as a common belief.
I’m surprised at how much it still influences our thinking in the face of overwhelming evidence that our fate is not sealed by our DNA – evidence spawned by the information being yielded through, amongst many bio-scientific discoveries, the sequencing of the genome. The idea that we can influence how our genes express themselves continues to be a subject that many of those in my demographic aren’t aware of or are unwilling to accept if they are aware.
An important emerging field in genetics is called “epigenetics” which is the “biological mechanisms that switch genes on and off.”
Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, offers some insight on genetics and epigenetics from his website MercolaTake Control of Your Health :
Epigenetics is probably the most important biological discovery since DNA. And it is turning the biological sciences upside down.
Now that we realize our fate is not sealed at the twining of our double helix, we avail ourselves to a whole new world of possibilities. There are things we can do to change our genetics, and therefore our health.
But beware — these changes can be good or bad. It works both ways. You can improve your genetics or you can damage it.
In fact, you ARE changing your genetics daily and perhaps even hourly from the foods you eat, the air you breathe, and even by the thoughts you think.
You are the “caretaker” of your genetic roadmap. Fundamentally, we’ve been called out if we are trying to hide behind genetics as an excuse for bad lifestyle habits.
- Myth #3: Retirement is a good thing
I’ll be careful – and brief here. Retirement is so entrenched in our culture and psyche I would be foolish to totally condemn it. I have enough trouble sustaining relationships with my hermit qualities as it is.
What I will rail against is off-the-cliff, labor-to-leisure, vocation-to-vacation retirement – the traditional model that emanated from a political decision in 1935, and that grew and became deeply embedded with the help of the financial services industry over the past 40-50 years.
The statistics showing accelerated physical deterioration, depression, suicides, substance abuse, and divorce that accompany this traditional retirement model are too compelling to ignore and to say that it’s the smartest, healthiest thing to do.
I advocate for unretirement or semi-retirement where the talents, skills, experience of 30-40 years of life are carried forward and shared with future generations in a way that pays forward while rewarding the “semi-retiree” a balanced lifestyle of leisure with contribution, service, and production rather than a sedentary, greedy, selfish lifestyle of consumption only.
‘Nough said. Off the soapbox. Thanks for tuning in. Let me know your thoughts on all this. Leave a comment below – and don’t be shy if I’ve offended you. I grow from your feedback.
Note: This is a guest post originally published at MakeAgingWork.com. Read this and other articles from Gary on his site.
____________________________________________________________________ About the Author:
Gary Allen Foster is an executive recruiter, retirement and career transition coach, writer, and speaker. He is an over-70 portfolio-career guy and audacious ager dedicated to helping folks in the over-50 crowd adopt a new perspective on how to live longer, live better and with more purpose in the second half. He coaches, speaks and writes publicly on the issues of mid-life career transitions, planning for purposeful retirement and achieving better health and greater longevity.
Find his thought-provoking articles and get a copy of his free ebook entitled Realize Your Full-life Potential: Five Easy Steps to Living Longer, Healthier, and With More Purpose at www.makeagingwork.com.
Gary Allen Foster Executive Recruiter/Retirement and Career Coach Highlands Ranch, CO 80129
720-344-7784 (O) 720-810-1300 (C)