One of the perks of being 50-years-old-and-then-some is this freedom-inducing newfound ability to simply not care in the same way you used to when you were, say, a spry 49-year-old. And that's a good thing because caring less about what isn't important saves time and energy. Not caring as much -- it works emotionally and intellectually.
It seems as though for most of our lives, we care very intensely for things that we -- later on in life -- don't take as seriously. We concentrate on words, on people, on situations; at any given moment, depending on how much we care, we can either ride the wave of life or send our worlds straight to hell.
Want to really rock the boat? Tap the vanity button. A good portion of our years goes to how we care too much about what people think of us. Remember Al Pacino as Lucifer in "The Devil's Advocate?" He said vanity was his favorite sin. What better way to outwit a human being than to suggest something that makes them self-doubt?
If anything is dependable in this life, it's that there's always someone out there who wants to change you. Whether that ruffles your feathers or not is up to you.
What we think of ourselves in one lifetime takes us from crying over the slightest uncertainty to coasting smoothly over situations we'd once find impossible. It's hard to go back to hysteria and the unnecessary once you've gotten over it.
Because, hopefully, once you've hit your fifties, you have gotten over it.
It's like this magic switch gets thrown over a series of years and then one day -- bam! Suddenly you just don't care. Not on an insensitive level but in a way that allows you to walk away from the insidious lure of drama. You weigh it, you size it up for what it's worth and if it's worthless, you reject it. Finally. You choose the peaceful path for obvious reasons.
They say older people get "set in their ways". I think this understanding of the older mindset gets mixed up with the idea of being atrophied and brittle. It's not the same. "Set in one's ways" might really be the result of a lifetime's worth of work; the work of getting to know one's self.
Knowing who we are takes time. Change may not be appropriate; in fact, the mature state of being "set" may also be the most creative ground we'll ever know. Knowing who we are, being set in our ways -- there's a certain security to it. Maybe we've finally identified our foundation.
Atrophied and brittle comes from insisting things into a place where they don't necessarily fit. As we get older, we recognize that some of what we kept of our past selves was actually really good -- even our neuroses make us happy -- so why not fly high the freak flag? We spent a life evolving, transforming and in the end, we realize that some things don't require revolutionary change. You reach the big 5-0 and like some kind of badge of self-esteem, you find that you like yourself "as is".
Maybe being set in one's ways is just a definitive statement that says, "I'm not broken, you need not try to fix me, thank you very much." Isn't being at ease with one's self the goal? While we worried who thought what of us, wasn't there always someone simultaneously telling us, "Don't listen to what anyone says. Who cares what they think? Just be yourself"?
And then you hit the 50-ish mark, and you just don't care.
You just don't care because you already know what's good for you. You know what makes you happy and what doesn't. You know from 50 years of life on Earth that some things are worth it and some things are not. You know who you are. Finally.
I know who I am, you know who you are, and though we may know each other, we do not know what's inside the other's head. Without knowing the truth of what's inside another's head, we cannot seriously think we can unilaterally advise a person.
So, when people tell me I should be doing this or that, especially when I didn't ask for their opinion or advice, my first reaction to suggestions that don't ring true for me is, "Thank you. That doesn't apply to me." I don't stick around for the argument party. In fact, the argument party is way at the other end of the "Places I'm Itching to Visit" game plan.
Priorities are something I care about. The rest is just fluff; it's the yap, the consciousness soup. The background noise that accompanies us on this very quick, short life.
And it's the shortness, the entropy that wakes you up. Because your psyche feels the countdown. That's why, hopefully, as you get older, you start to prioritize what's important to you and leave the rest to the fluff department.
The 50's introduces you to the new wisdom.
So, if you must battle, then choose your battles, because battling is such a drain. And please, don't battle with me, because I'm old, jaded and always right.
Oh, and because I said so.