Growing older is something we don’t talk about enough. We live in a society that prizes eternal youth. So we must stay quiet about it.
Beyond a certain age, to be mistaken for being younger is a huge compliment and a personal victory of sorts. (I got ID’d in Waitrose – yay). But to be mistaken for being older than you are, well…that’s embarrassing.
We associate youth with freshness, desirability and modernity. Which makes becoming older a scary, unwelcome fate. Celebrities often don’t appear to age. Brands sell us anti-wrinkle cream and hair dye. We’re encouraged to hide the signs and preserve ourselves at all costs.
Now business is in on the act too. It’s not enough to be successful anymore, you’ve got to do it younger. ‘30 under 30‘ lists celebrate youthful achievements. But they aren’t much fun to read, except for those on them. Sure, you might be successful but if you are over 30, it doesn’t count. If you are under 30, better get your skates on or you won’t be recognised.
Tech startups create cultures they hope will attract young talent. Is it a coincidence that the offices of the world’s biggest companies can resemble playgrounds? But amongst the pick n mix, slides and ping-pong tables, ageism is lurking. Many worry that they will lose their job when they get to a certain age. That they will be cast aside for younger, cheaper substitutes.
Does the fetishism of youth serve any of us well? It means we all have a shelf-life, which can be a depressing way to view our future.
A culture always looking backward, toward the joys of a vanishing youth, cheats everyone: depending on your age, the “best years” are either an increasingly distant memory, or they will be, all too soon. In a culture that celebrates growing up, by contrast, everybody has them to look forward to – unless they’re already enjoying them.” Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
Growing up was something I once celebrated. When I was 12, the idea of being 13 seemed amazing and almost too exciting to contemplate. I often (wrongly) imagined I would become more cool and attractive by the next birthday. Age meant permission; clocking up the right number of years to drive, vote and drink alcohol. The opening up of more opportunities.
In my twenties, ageing started to feel different. I wasn’t ashamed of my age, but there was constant social comparison going on in my mind. When I turned 26, I wondered if I had the trappings of a life that a 26-year-old should have? Did I have the relationship, job and home? Then there were financial targets. What salary should I be earning by that age? Why wasn’t I there yet? Insecurity and confusion were rife.
Yet, the more I compared myself with others, the more I realised there wasn’t a perfect way to live. Some had high-flying careers but very little time to themselves. Some had growing families but little money. Some had happy relationships but hated their jobs. Everyone was and is on a journey.
Cindy Gallop, one of my personal heroines, talks about the mission ‘Disrupt Aging’. It’s about challenging the myths of what it means to be young and old. Far from being less useful to society, as you get older you have a different perspective. You have a lot to contribute. And you care less what anyone thinks.
But younger people have value that is often overlooked too. They need support and opportunities to get started in industries. Diversity is important.
I tell everyone how old I am as often as possible. I shout it from the rooftops. I deliberately do that. There is this feeling that women should not tell anyone their age.” Cindy Gallop
As you get older, your tastes change and develop. But it’s not always in a predictable and cliched way. I know plenty of people who became more adventurous as they became older. You can try new things, travel the world and get a tattoo at any age. My Dad is rocking a ponytail for the first time at 68!
I’ve also learned a lot from younger people. Our role models don’t have to be older. We can acknowledge and credit those who are making a difference at any age.
So although my 30s have been a turbulent decade so far, getting older is something I value. I’ve let go of the ideas of where I should be and what I should have done by now. That’s when you start being yourself.