There are lots of spinmeisters working the aging beat these days. I know this because, well, I'm one of them. We parrot things like "60 is the new 40," and "you are only as old as you feel." While both those statements are in many cases true, there are times they make me cringe a little because their underlying message is this: It sucks to be older. Friends, that really isn't the case. There are actually parts of being older that I find to be an improvement over being younger. Here's what I'm talking about:
1. I now can dress for comfort, not success.
I go to work every day in my jeans and boots. If I'm going to do any walking at all, I switch over to my sneakers. When I see women in their 20s wearing high heels, I bite my tongue knowing that like myself at that age, I wouldn't have listened to anyone who tried to tell me about the damage I was causing my future feet. That's just how it is. And how it was.
When I was in my 20s, all career paths for women were paved with dresses and pantyhose that would frequently run at the most inopportune time. Most women carried a spare pair in case of an emergency.
When I was climbing the career ladder, figuring out what to wear for a job interview would throw me into a tailspin. Did I really believe that carrying the wrong purse somehow made me less qualified for the job I wanted, the job I deserved and had earned?
Today, all that is behind me. Today, I'm all about comfort. When I get home from the office, I no longer need to change out of my work clothes. What I wear are my life clothes. Only confident people can pull off underdressing. And with age, came my confidence.
2. I now know how to compromise without being compromised.
With age comes the skill to navigate around difficult personalities and know how to prevent dust-ups from escalating into full-scale wars. I still have opinions; I just accept that not everyone shares them. Besides, wars aren't won by people who are right; they are won by the side with the best weapons -- and sometimes that weapon is just the sharpest tongue.
As you age, it becomes far less important to be right and way more important to be happy. I love discussion, even debate. And I'm fine with disagreement as long as it isn't disagreeable. One of the things I dislike about the Internet is how much disagreeableness it has unleashed.
3. I now know that Nancy Reagan was right when she told us to "just say no."
While her message was intended to dissuade kids from trying drugs -- and failed miserably at that -- the ability to say "no" grows with age and absolutely has its upsides. I say "no" all the time now. I decline invitations to things I don't want to do. I say "no thanks" to events, parties, dinners with people I'm not interested in. I say "no" to people who try to pressure me to do things or support causes I don't want to. I also say "no" to people who suck the air out of the room; you know who you are. I am a big user of Facebook's "unfriend" button and have adapted Nancy's simplistic solution to the drug war as a mantra that has nothing to do with her original intention.
The beauty of saying "no" means I have more time to spend and do things with the people in my life I say "yes" to -- primarily my family and close friends. Learning to say "no" involves shaking off the guilt. Yes I have obligations, but they aren't the same obligations of my 30s. Can I work next Saturday? Sorry, my kid has a soccer game.
4. I no longer feel the need to be invincible.
I had a funny exchange recently with my favorite editor, who had just returned from a Vermont ski trip with her family. She stopped skiing three years ago after a spill on a European slope, she told me. My own ski life ended on a black diamond bowl at Vail more than a decade ago. Now, we both will venture a run down a bunny slope, especially if our kids want us to, but much prefer the relative safety of snowshoes to skiing moguls. I'm good with it.
I have ways of staying in shape and having fun that feel less risky to me. I have no interest in jumping out of airplanes or surfing the waves of Oahu's North Shore. In fact, my thrill bar is set pretty low these days. Put me on a hiking trail with a couple of girlfriends and let's reserve a table at that great new restaurant for dinner and you've just made me exceedingly happy.
The flip side of the invincibility coin is the knowledge that life can be pretty exciting even without taking unnecessary risks. I think it's called contentment.
5. Principles don't soften, but we may.
A dear friend of mine decades ago quit a job over a principle. He was a teacher briefly at a private high school where he caught a senior cheating on a final exam and gave him an F. The boy had already been accepted to college and the incident put his admission at risk. The boy and his parents pleaded for mercy, first to my friend and then to the private school's principal. When the school asked my friend to change the grade, he refused and quit on the spot. Cheating is despicable, he said, and while ruining a kid's college plans was a steep penalty to pay, a worse lesson was believing you could cheat in life and get away with it.
For years, I admired my friend's resolution to stand up for what he believed was right. It wasn't until I had my own imperfect children that I wondered how quitting his job had helped this boy who clearly needed help. Truth is, it hadn't.
Sometimes, it isn't about us but about our willingness to forgive and bend. Doing the obvious thing isn't always doing the right thing.
6. I can be soft now.
While I didn't spend my 20s or 30s walking around feeling fierce, I suspect that's how I appeared to some people. Being a woman trying to advance in a male-dominated workplace required a certain toughness -- a toughness that I wore well. I'm glad to not be that person anymore.
I would much rather woo you than verbally beat you to a pulp. I would much rather inspire you than intimidate you. I am actually happiest when we learn from each other.
When I see younger women in management roles, I want to whisper in their ear and tell them the path to respect is a two-way street. You get it when you give it.
7. With age comes your own washer and dryer.
OK, call it silly if you will. But there are few life conveniences that wallop the same punch as an in-home washing machine and clothes dryer. These appliances totally remove the "chore" from doing laundry and eliminate the need to own 30 pair of underwear for when you don't do it for a month. The joy of being able to toss a few things in the washing machine while you cook dinner and then move them to the dryer before dessert cannot be underestimated.
But there is a broader lesson here too: By the time you reach midlife, you have figured out how to make your life easier. While complexity makes life more interesting, inconvenience does not.