Last month I turned fifty. Luckily for me, it wasn’t the dreaded milestone it could’ve been. After all, I grew up surrounded by lots of negative beliefs about ageing to last me a lifetime: “I don’t want to grow old, it’s too depressing;” “when you get old your body starts to give up on you;” “this (insert bad thing or ailment) is all part of getting old;” “you become invisible as you get older;” “it’s all downhill from now on.” It’s hardly surprising that many of us in our late forties and fifties end up either dreading the years to come or railing against them by trying to pack as much in as possible (younger lover, ultra-marathons, sports car, botox, face lift, breast implants, you name it).
But let’s face facts: most of us are going to grow old and we’re all living longer. According to The King’s Fund, in 1901 life expectancy for men was 45 years and for women it was 49. By 2012, this increased to 79.2 years for men and 83.3 years for women. If, after the age of 50 many of us could live another 29 to 33 years, is it really a good idea to embark on that next stage of our lives with resentment and regret or even denial? Could there actually be a healthier middle ground?
The answer is, yes. And it boils down to whether we’re willing or not to take control of our own personal attitude or mind-set. Sure, it’s easy to buy into all those beliefs about ageing we’re surrounded by but it can be just as easy not to. So how can we do that?
1.Shift your perspective
When I work with clients, I always start by doing a ‘life appraisal’. We look at different areas of their lives and ask the question: what’s worked in your life so far and what hasn’t? I like to place a particular emphasis on what has worked and why because by doing that we reinforce the fact that over the years we’ve gained a lot of life experience and indeed, wisdom. I’m certainly more comfortable in my skin and know myself better now than I ever did before my mid-forties (yes, I came to deeper self-awareness pretty late!) so these facts alone have helped me view midlife and getting older from a fresher and different perspective.
For me it’s about appreciating a life well-lived through experiences both good and bad and embracing what this body of experience and wisdom can still yield in the years to come. Viewed like this, why would I want to throw all that away by resigning myself to a belief that my life will go downhill from now on? I’m ready to live life even more fully because I know what works and doesn’t work for me.
2.Apply what you’ve learnt
This to me is what midlife and my fifties will be about. So what have I learnt?
These days I prefer a more balanced life rather than courting drama.
As someone who grew up in a ‘glass half full’ environment, I gained a natural disposition for catastrophic thinking and as a result, a predilection for drama. I’d be the one relating tales of injustices, ailments and other things gone drastically wrong in my life while secretly enjoying the attention and sympathy I was getting. But when in my mid to late forties I learnt how your beliefs and outlook determine the way you experience life, I seriously began to question my addiction to drama. What would happen if instead of dwelling on what was going wrong in my own and other people’s lives, I started focusing on (and giving more air-time to) what was going well? It didn’t happen overnight but gradually I began to notice I was less stressed, less worried, less irritable and that my life in general was no longer a roller-coaster ride of peaks and troughs. There’s a lot of truth in the saying “You get what you focus on whether you want it or not” so these days I make a point of choosing my point of focus wisely, both in terms of thoughts and interactions.
I’m learning to use and trust my intuition more
Until my mid-forties, I spent my life listening to other people and what they thought was right for me. Yet my intuition (that still small voice within) was always with me, ready to guide me even when I was hell-bent on ignoring it and brushing it aside because I felt I/my family/friends/colleagues/the powers that be knew better. I know differently now. Thankfully I’m old enough to know that on those rare occasions when I did listen to my intuition, it was totally the right thing to do. And when I didn’t, I only had myself to blame. I also know that whenever I ignored my intuition and followed what others wanted or expected me to do, I’d resent it. Why? Because in essence I was negating me. It took me 45 years to finally learn that if I take the time and effort to connect with and listen to that still, small voice within, I do end up knowing what best to do. These days, inspired action is what counts for me because I know that if I bother to listen, I do have answers within me.
At the end of the day, the next phase of your life is yours for the making. How ready are you to make it matter or not?