My 50th birthday is fast approaching. Way too fast. Fifty. Wow. That’s a big number. It got me to thinking…What does it mean to be fifty in this age of botox and detox, Sneakers that promise a workout, green tea and Vitamin E?
It hurts. No, I mean it hurts. I suddenly find aches in muscles I didn’t know existed. More stiffness when I get up in the morning. My sciatica bothers me more often. The days of staying up until 2 am are long gone. I’m lucky now if I make it ‘til midnight (I fell asleep one New Year’s Eve not too long ago before the ball dropped).
Sure, I try doing the “healthy” things – watching my diet (goodbye cheeseburgers), buying a treadmill, heck, I even started yoga last fall. That was great until I tore my meniscus, and just as that healed, pulled a hamstring. You just can’t win sometimes. There are days I feel more like 80 than 50 and there’s research to back it up.
Oh, and let’s not even get into those wonderful hormonal changes, bone loss, ongoing dental problems, middle aged spread, or adding more fiber to the diet.
The age issue really hit home recently. I was interviewing for a writing gig with a new client. The contact was at most, maybe, 27. I sat there, pitching myself, and my capabilities to someone barely out of grad school. Get used to it, Liz. It’s gonna happen more often than not going forward. Yeah, but it doesn’t help when the junk mail is now from AARP, and I get mass emails from people that want to sell me a retirement condo in Florida.
Fifty always seemed so… well, old. That’s a half-century. Five decades. Ten presidents. From a few channels on black and white TV to TVs with hundreds of channels that you can hold in the palm of your hand. Thoughts turn to things like colonoscopies, redistributing the IRA portfolio, and wistfully remembering when it was time to go out at 11 pm, instead of getting ready for bed. There were over 2 million results when I Googled “Fitness over Fifty”. Web sites, magazines, DVDs, books, experts, quasi-experts. Promising better bodies, more agile minds, feeling like 30, or even 25, with the “right” special diet, or workout routine, or latest mega-vitamin.
As writer/commentator Tom Bodett put it “People who say life begins at 40 are optimists. People who say it begins at 50 are liars. I’ve only been 50 for a few months and I’m already tired of it. It’s like the warranty on a GM drive train: Five miles past your limit and the transmission falls out. I’ve strained more tendons and pulled more ligaments in the last six months than I knew I had.” See, it’s not just me.
On the other hand, I have a heck of a lot more real-life experience – good and bad – than the 25 or 30- year olds out there. I have handled failure, layoffs, a sick kid at 3 am, credit card debt, bad bosses, good bosses, scary middle school principals, unpleasant neighbors, burnt dinners, stuck subways, job interviews, juggling house, work, family, friends, exercise class, mid-life graduate school assignments, heartbreak, community service, stubborn teenagers, new beginnings, closure of friendships, power politics at the office… the joys and sorrows that come with living.
I’ve lost a parent to cancer, sent my son off to college, started my own consulting business, made new friends, cut ties with some old ones, learned how to Tweet, and post on my Wall, and text like a pro (OK, maybe that’s a stretch, I’ll never be as good as a teenager). I have learned how to handle the curve balls of life. Those 20- somethings are still wet behind the ears.
George Bernard Shaw once said “age is a question of mind over matter.” He’s right. Fifty, like any age, is mostly about mindset. I know plenty of people who are 50+ and you’d never guess it by their lifestyle or attitude. I also know plenty of 50 year olds that seem like they should be living in Century Village. It’s physical and mental.
I can look at fifty and say my life is half over. And gee, I have to watch what I eat, and it hurts to get out of bed in the morning, and mourn what I haven’t accomplished so far. Or, I can say, look what I’ve done – and be proud of my achievements. I have a lot more that I want to tackle. So, what should I do? Deal with my knee pain at yoga, or be a couch potato instead and complain about my aches and injuries. Manage my cholesterol though diet and exercise or be stuck taking yet another pill. No one is going to make me retire to a condo in Florida unless I choose to.
It’s all about choice. I can choose to be depressed or to embrace a new phase of my life. I can choose botox or aging naturally. (Hint: I am not big on needles). I can choose to accept growing older and be positive about what’s ahead, or dwell on the things I never got to do.
Maybe this isn’t the life I thought I’d have when I was dreaming about the future as a teen, or as a new bride, or a new mom. But…all in all, it’s been a pretty good ride so far. My birthday is just a few days away and I’m looking forward to celebrating…me. I’m just getting started.