I used to say, “I do not know yet what I want to do when I grow up,” assuming I had a great deal of growing up yet to do.
I filled my life with many grown-up passions. Sailing was one. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” was the forecast that made me drop all other activities.
But I don’t rush anymore to the lake for enjoyment. I also don’t do high rope courses. My days of staging plays are gone. My teaching career is over. Only the pictures on the shelf defining my previous lives are dusted off with effort. Now that we are in our fyi50+ years, the mirror on the wall tells us we have finally “made it.”
But what exactly does that mean?
“Making it” first begins with accepting the wrinkles we see and the gray hair we style. Sadly, the image in the mirror is now like that of our mom’s or dad’s. We have become them and may not like some of the limitations their genes have placed on us. We cannot be the tennis player we were at 30 or even 40.
Jana Nikitin and Alexandra Freund, in The Cambridge Handbook of Successful Aging, state it all too well: “Aging is characterized by decreasing resource gains and increasing resource losses, but most older adults can successfully adapt to the shifting of that balance.”
Entering the senior Olympics is now our golden moment to live in the moment and live life well, whatever the mirror may reveal. Maybe now, when you play sports against younger people, keeping the score close becomes our new personal best. But the real win? Our genes someday will thank us for not giving up on them.
“Making it” is next about acceptance of what pleasures employ our best selves. We don’t need a multitude of friends with whom to party. We don’t need grandchildren or a spouse or our physical beauty to sing karaoke favorites. We don’t even need the microphone!
Contentment is a matter of adjusting our attitude about life to the here-and-now, even if that no longer includes the experiences or people who shaped our pasts.
Perhaps our youthful selves did not fully and truly live those early years. Well, our past selves need not limit our future selves. The seeds of our authentic inner beauty aren’t withering on a vine. We only need remind ourselves to see the vine anew.
“Making it” also challenges our ability to stay engaged intellectually. Looking in the mirror and wishing we had done Botox doesn’t increase our IQ. Let’s affirm the joy of classes in the humanities, the sciences, and business and taking the time to read a good book. And, if something comes across our media feed about eco-friendly kayaks or Stoic sayings or Moulin Rouge history, let’s do a deep dive into what we don’t know.
Our hard-won wisdom teaches us to let go of life’s circumstances we never fully controlled anyway. But that wisdom also teaches us to control the GPS markings we set as direction for our life. We can always still “own it” when guided by the right antecedents while we “make it.”
Cheers to living a life well-lived!