Guest blog by Barbara M. Morris, R.Ph
The American way of aging, steeped in stultifying tradition and flawed conventional wisdom of a bygone era, is slowly changing.
But for now, tradition and custom still dominate. You know the routine: Around age 50 an accelerating number of sound bites, events and messages caution or imply, "The end is near." Everything from invitations to join AARP to dire warnings about inescapable problems and pitfalls of aging are relentless reminders life is winding down.
You are deemed lazy or irresponsible if you have not prepared to acquire that contagious, debilitating disease called retirement - a political absurdity of the Depression Era that short-circuits the life and potential of many capable people and, burdens society in too many ways to count.
Bombarded by countless predictions of impending disability and death, you start looking for signs of your own decline. A momentary memory lapse, which everyone experiences, regardless of age, results in a panicky "I'm having a senior moment." I have never heard a teenager experiencing a memory lapse (and they have plenty of them) berate him or herself with "I'm having a junior moment."
You drop something and immediately declare, "I must be getting old." Young people drop things all the time and don't imagine they are getting old. They just bend over and pick it up. Youth doesn't sweat the small stuff - why should you?
The advent of age 60 can really accelerate the "old age" wrecking ball. Tradition says it's time to leave the real world. It's time to travel and play golf the rest of your life.
Social and family pressure convinces you the home you've lived in all your life is now "too much" for you. Therefore, you move to a retirement community where you not only enjoy the comfort and camaraderie of peers, but you are also vulnerable to the reality of the Grim Reaper who manifests himself in an abnormal concentration of sickness, depression, and death.
You adopt attitudes and behaviors that instruct your subconscious to help you let go of life. You kid yourself that you are just taking time to smell the roses but before you know it, the roses are on your coffin and you are pushing up daises.
Here's the good news: In spite of the pull of tradition and social expectations, people are beginning to opt out of the traditional aging process, refusing to slow down, fall into line, give up, and drop out. A 78 year-old friend and business owner is engaged to a successful younger executive and together they have a solid plan for future business and personal growth. A 92-year-old woman is flying across the country, participating in a Powder Puff Derby. A 78-year-old man is studying for a doctor's degree.
These people and countless others are maintaining and improving the quality of their lives and making a valuable contribution to society. Unfortunately, examples of inspiring mature lives are too often hidden. When brought to light, we exclaim in astonishment, "Isn't she wonderful for her age," or "Isn't it amazing what he is still doing?" When people learn I am still working as a pharmacist, they gasp, "You are still working full time at age 73?" Big deal! Chronological age is an accounting of time gone by, not a measure of physical or mental capacity.
Expression of amazement for age-related competence is patronizing. Ability should be valued for what it is, without reference to chronological age,. That point will be reached when more influential and outspoken mature role models come out of the "old age" closet and show, if not flaunt, what they and others are capable of accomplishing. They are needed to help establish an enlightened society in which healthy, productive aging is no longer newsworthy as something special. It will open doors of opportunity and possibilities now closed to valuable and talented people afflicted with nothing more incapacitating than advanced chronological age.
How about you: Are you living a life that rejects they tyranny of chronological age? Are you happily marching forward to the beat of your own personal drummer? Are you gloriously "out of sync" with convention-bound peers? Are you productively defying archaic wisdom that no longer makes sense? If so, the world needs to know about you.
In the past century, the American life span has increased 27 years. Boomers are the first generation ever to have the opportunity for a healthy, productive Second Life. They can choose the traditional aging route as their parents did, or forge an exciting, unprecedented transition from fantasy-driven "young forever boomer" to real life healthy, productive, ageless bloomer. It's a matter of choice, not chance. It's just that simple.