For the past few birthdays, I’ve been telling everyone I know that “I’m turning 24 again!” Huh. What are the odds? Now of course I’m kidding, but the reality is that as I’ve gone up in my 20’s the mentality of growing older becomes more and more evident. And before anyone wants to bite my head off (please don’t), I am aware that I’m still relatively young. But this year’s birthday stung just a tad — the number signifying my last year in this decade. The number that acknowledges adulthood in real, overt way with important responsibilities — a true marker of growing up.
And though I’d simply love to keep perpetuating the line “I’m turning 26 again” (notice how it went up as a desperate attempt to cling to the mid-20’s now?), I know I can sort this out. I know there’s a brighter outlook, somewhere, in the midst of processing getting older, and to all you lovely readers, feel free to join me for the ride.
First off, I tell myself to not compare. This one is huge. Caps lock HUGE. Write-it-on-the forehead-huge (well, actually that’s probably not a great idea).
Comparisons with our peers are so incredibly easy to do, especially in our time of social media. It’s understandable to feel behind when we see others having all kinds of successes (this one personally stings, sometimes, in the writing field). And it’s understandable to feel behind when we see others achieve all kinds of milestones that we aren’t ready for just yet.
Basically everyone, regardless of age, is on their own timeline, their own path. I know people, who are in their 20’s, with kids and a house. And I know people living at home. I know people who are engaged and married, ad I know people who are single. I know people who moved out fairly recently (*cough* — me).
Then there are the (sometimes unspoken) societal expectations for each decade. For instance, in my 30’s, it’s hard to say, “It’s okay, I’m still figuring it out!” (As opposed to proclaiming such a statement in my 20’s — the transitional decade!) And yet, even in the throes of adulthood, the 30’s and beyond, we still are human. We still make mistakes. We still may fail. We still may be searching. And we, of course, still have our rough emotions and bad days and human moments.
I also believe that while life is short, it’s also long. Maybe that cliche of “age is nothing but a number,” has truth to some extent, because technological advancements allow us a longer life span, and there’s some comfort in knowing that we can take some controlled measures to take care of ourselves and our health. And in a more figurative sense, age can certainly “just be a number,” if we still hold onto some of our youthfulness, some of our childish innocence. We’re never too old, in my opinion, to laugh at corny jokes or get excited and giddy over small things, small pleasures. For me, such feelings manifest when I float in the ocean and feel a sense of calm instilled in the water and air and sun. At the risk of sounding too cliche here, we are never too old to soar. (I tried very hard not to say fly.)
Psychology Today published an article from the 1990’s (though it was last reviewed in 2016) by Susan Scar Merrell. In “Getting Over Getting Older,” she talks about how growing older isn’t as intimidating as it used to be.
“The first surprise is that those of us entering the middle years en masse are truly lucky to be hitting our thirties, forties, and fifties now, in the 1990s,” Merrell said. “Because the state of a civilization has a very real impact on the inevitable path to getting older, every generation experiences aging differently.”
She proceeds to cite Helen Kivnivk, Ph.D., a psychologist, who talks about the aging process. Kivnick relays that later life is determined by a few factors — biology, history, society, and culture, and she suggests the later life now has the potential to be fulfilling, with longevity, too. “Old age as we now know it is very new, and doesn’t look at all like it used to,’ Kivnick said. “Because people live longer and with greater independence, they can plan their futures more actively. Elders today [those over 65] are breaking new ground.”
In addition, Merrell also said that self-awareness is key. “Your personality isn’t likely to change so much that it becomes unrecognizable as you get older,” she said. “Thus you can begin to speculate about the future in practical ways. It’s never too early to start considering the basic questions: What’s important to me? What life do I most want to live? With whom and where? Would I prefer to stay near my own family or to be in an elder community? Do I want to travel? How will I remain connected to the greater world? What contribution should I make?”
Needless to say, as I’m writing this, my birthday has passed, and I am another year older and hanging onto the last stretch of this decade. But it is helpful to remember that yes, we are all on our own path and don’t have to suppress our human moments, and that yes, we can still take strides to have a long and healthy life, and that yes, it’s never too late to soar on the playground swings.