There’s a preconception in our society that as we move through the decades of our post-20’s adult lives that it is a universally desirable thing to be – or at least look – like the youngest version of ourselves possible. To be “still” young, strong, beautiful.
It’s such an ingrained and assumed shared value in America that it’s never even put up for discussion.
But I’m here to say, it’s not my goal to be “still” anything. I like being "finally."
If you think about it, maybe you feel the same. Maybe, like me, you’ve spent most of your adult life trying to get out of certain “still” situations. You know the ones, that seem to take forever resolve. As in, still trying to:
find a job
quit a job
find a better job
(repeat the above)
decide what to do in life
decide about a partner
get over fears
figure out who self is
find self’s passion
get over self
figure out beliefs
In an effort to move through those painful “still” situations --which can make us feel bound by indecision, lack, or pain—we toil for long, hard, slow decades trying to achieve whatever goals or destinations fit our idea of happiness and success.
It can feel like an endless struggle. But we stay busy and get on with things.
And then at some point when we least expect it, we arrive at a watershed, where everything Before teeters on a fulcrum in the balance with everything After. Typically, this point arrives somewhere around those midlife years.
And yeah. It’s pretty real up there on that peak.
Suddenly you can see the whole span of where you’ve been, and from a distance, everything that lies ahead, too. The perspective from that height reveals territory and fears you hadn’t known about, Before.
You don’t really have time to take it all in, because life keeps marching forward, sweeping you over the apex and carrying you down the other side. You have to make a choice, fast, or you’ll miss your shot. (Gratuitous Hamilton reference!)
Your choices are:
Choice 1 - Take a deep breath, shut your eyes, and start down the other side, embracing the steeply diminishing incline of time.
Choice 2 - Balance at the summit’s tipping point, denying time’s forward momentum. Try your best to remain where you are, occasionally scrambling to slip-climb back up when you lose balance and tip too far over the edge.
It’s not an easy decision. A cloud of panic moves in fast, like a blizzard hitting the summit of Mt. Everest. You can’t see clearly. You get confused and disoriented.
Meanwhile, what you see and hear all around you is that Choice #1 - embracing aging! - is not good. It’s bad, all bad, very bad to get old. It’s made explicitly clear that aging naturally is the worst choice. Daring to show your age is like announcing publicly, “I'm done, I give up. Dismiss me as grumpy and irrelevant.”
So Choice #2 – staying young! – is the de facto option for most of us. It’s desirable and achievable. Everyone’s on board. A panoply of hormones, supplements, drugs, lasers, superfoods, and workouts are at our service. Role models abound (J Lo!). Everyone seems to agree that maintaining youth means happiness, success, and sanity.
Understandably, a lot of us go with Choice 2 and start pouring energy into staying “still” what we were.
But that's not for me. I spent enough of those younger years in various states of intense discomfort and self-loathing and frankly, I don't need the reminder.
Sure, we all want to look our best and take care of our health. But insisting on an eternal appearance of youth is just one more way we perpetuate unsustainable demands on women, and set the bar so ridiculously high for our daughters that it’s actually a disservice to them.
They already feel pressured to be non-stop go-getter passionate leader-achiever-STEAMer entrepreneur world-changing super women from the time they’re in grade school. Now we’re also showing them that it's not ok to age? That they’re not allowed to get tired? Can’t ever gain weight, slow down, take a breather, ease up on themselves?
I’d rather set the bar a little lower for all of us. I aspire to be like the Danes, whose ‘happiest population in the world’ designation is based on low expectations (and hygge).
I know I’m not here to be J Lo. And now that I know that, I can relax a little. I finally don’t have to try so hard to be [insert societal expectation of choice here].
You will never find me forcefully insisting, “I’m still sexy!” Not because it isn't true (heh heh), but because I think that’s emphasizing the wrong point.
The point -- the magic, the wonderfulness -- of reaching this age has nothing to do with being “still” anything that defines youth.
The only “still” I want is still to have time to contribute something of value to the world, and to the generations coming after me.
Because I know, finally, that I'm here to be me, just me, with all the good/bad, cool/goofy and wise/cluelessness of me. I want to use my energies for something that’s not about comparing myself to the standards of the past, but about moving on to something completely different.
When we embrace our own maturity, when we arrive on the far side of that mountain, we can finally be at peace with all our choices and our mistakes during the climb.
We can be free, finally, of the expectations and the standards based on other people’s values that were never ours in the first place. We can finally walk into a room confidently, adorned not with glowing skin and defined triceps, but with nuanced wisdom, and the peaceful, friendly softness of age.
Did you catch it in there? That sweet, sweet word?
We get to be finally!
Maybe it's not for everyone, but it is what I've been waiting for my whole life.
I am proud to be, not still, what I was when I was younger.
I embrace and celebrate what I am.
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