How old are you? It's a question that puts most of us on our heels and that few enjoy answering. It's a question that, at best, is impolite to ask and at worst, illegal. For most of us, the four most difficult ages to turn are 40, 50, 60 and 70.
I'm turning the big 6-0 soon, and it has me thinking about the numbers we all hesitate to admit. While not exactly living in a world turned upside down, I do live in a world that I hope and believe is a glimpse of the not-too-distant future. It's a world in which people beyond a certain age are actually proud of their age and anxious to share it.
I live in this world because our company, Growing Bolder, produces stories on men and women who celebrate the possibilities of life beyond the age of 40, 50 or even 90. The subjects of our stories are so busy being engaged in life and what they can do that they somehow missed the memo about what they can't do or aren't supposed to do. This "can't do memo" is sent to all of us by media organizations, Madison Avenue, employers, schools, doctors and even our friends and family.
When someone says, with a degree of sadness and surprise, "But I don't feel 50," it implies that 50 is supposed to feel bad. We believe that because we've been programmed to believe it for decades. Once we do believe it, we become part of the brainwashing machine -- sending cues to others, including our own kids and grandkids, that life beyond a certain age, well, sucks. Is there a more tragic message we can embrace? Is there a more debilitating legacy that we can leave to those we care the most about?
To be clear, I'm not even remotely suggesting that being over 50, 60 or 80 doesn't bring with it some very difficult challenges. It does. Just as being four, 14 or 24 does. Life is challenging at any age, but at no age does it make sense to give in or give up, because life can also be thrilling, rewarding and immensely satisfying at any age.
We've all been conditioned to not only fight aging, but also to deny it. The first is a good thing, but the latter is not. We deny our age after 35 or 40 because we believe that age alone makes us less viable, less interesting, less desirable and less employable.
Not all of the stories we tell at Growing Bolder are about men and women who celebrate their age, but they are about people who ignore the constant implication that being their age is a bad thing. We're meeting more people every day who are actually proud of their age. They're anxious to share it because it's not at all what society has led them to believe it would be. It's fun, exciting, richly rewarding -- even sexy. We believe that those who are growing bolder and not just growing older are just the tip of the spear -- an indication that a positive change is finally underway.
So how do we keep from drinking the "over 50 sucks" Kool-Aid and then help serve it to others? We can start by becoming comfortable with our age and not apologetic for it. We should try hard to stay as healthy and vibrant as we can, but the near-manic desire to fight the appearance of age isn't healthy. Somewhere along the way, the idea was hatched that aging is associated with ugliness and shame. Unfortunately, the concept jumped quickly from the conference rooms of Madison Avenue and the screening rooms of Hollywood into the psyche of our society.
We have the power to redefine what it means to grow old, but before we can change society's mind, we have to change our own. It starts with something as simple as accepting the age on our birthday cake and understanding that turning 50, 60, 70 or even 90 is not the end of a meaningful, rewarding, productive life. In many cases, it's just the beginning.
Note to HuffPost readers: There's a revolution underway, and it's good news for everybody of every age! It's never too late to achieve your dreams. It's never too late to give back to your community and leave a meaningful legacy. It's not about age. It's about attitude. Join the revolution. Watch "Growing Bolder" on PBS stations coast to coast and connect with me on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.
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