"Act your age" is a killjoy saying made up by people who don't like fun.
Seriously. It's often said in this older sister "You better listen to me or I'll tell Mom" kind of way. (I am the youngest of five daughters so I admit my viewpoint might be a little colored by that growing-up experience.)
And I find it's usually said by people with the hint of a spirit of defeatism, like "Hey, you're not as young as you used to be, why you do you want to ____?" (Insert weightlift, ride a motorcycle, climb a mountain, surf, stay up past 10 pm, whatever, there are many options!)
Of course, we're not as young as we used to be. NO ONE IS. Duh.
If our existence was flipped and we grew younger every year, that would be bad. Who wants to relive high school or their 20's? Not me! Those years were full of angst, hangovers, and bad fashion choices. No thank you!
It’s like that new horror movie out where the kids grow older hour by hour. That's not horror. True horror would be the kids growing younger hour by hour. Diapers and tantrums again? Breastfeeding again? That would send me running out of the theatre screaming in absolute terror.
I like the age I'm at ... but that doesn't mean I want to act my age, especially not if it means I have to give up going hard, being active, and loving big. There’s a price to pay for living life on your own terms and I’m willing to pay it.
I'm okay with being like Toni Morrison's character Sula when she speaks of the difference between her and most of the women in her world: "Dying. Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a stump. Me, I’m going down like one of those redwoods. I sure did live in this world."
And here's why I think you should join me in going down like a redwood.
Acceptance Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be
Recently, I was talking with my amazing physical therapist/magician Maren while she worked on my messed-up neck. (It's better now but will always require maintenance and that's okay. At least I can snatch and overhead press again!) I wanted to know what kind of patients do really well in physical therapy and what ones don't. Her answer came pretty quick.
"Those who have something they want to get back to – they do the best," Maren said. "Without a doubt, the patients who have something – a sport, a routine, a goal – that they want to return to. Those folks are dedicated and do all the work required here and at home to heal and improve their movement so they can get back to whatever it is that they love."
That answer made total sense and it made me think of the feistiness required to persevere as we age. My mom used to say, "Old age is no place for sissies," and I think she was right. (And if you want to listen to a podcast about feisty women, check out Hit Play, Not Pause.)
I have no doubt it would be easier to give up and say, "I'm 55. I can't do pull-ups anymore" ... because that's what was in the back of my mind when I met Maren a few months ago. But she quickly told me, "Don't give up. Let's do the work. I think we can get you back there."
I fought against the dying of the (overhead) light. And I'll continue to fight against the dying of the light as long as I have breath. Not just because I'm feisty but because it makes sense.
Why Fighting Against the Dying of the Light Is a Good Thing
Mindset is a funny thing. It's individual to each of us (like nutrition) but there are common elements to those who succeed and one of those elements is resilience. You hear many people talk about resilience but the best thing to remember about resilience is that the root of the word actually dates back to old eggheads with cool names like Pliny the Elder and Cicero in B.C. days, who basically used "resilience" to mean "rebound after a substantial event."
Rebound. Come back. Return. Be stretched into a new shape and then recoil.
That's powerful! You were one thing and you stretched to become something else (a new experience!) and then you came back to yourself. Human, pat yourself on the back! You done good!
The thing I want you to remember here: when you hit a hard part (injury, loss, or another traumatic event), take the time to heal and rebound ... but don't lose faith in your ability to come back. Be resilient. Don't lose sight of what you want to return to. Sure, you're going to be a little different and that's okay. You can make accommodations. Just don't stop raging against the dying of the light. Work hard and rebound.
Be Realistic and Get the Help You Need For Your Age
Like I always say: if you need help, get help. That might be physical therapy, it might mental therapy, it might be spiritual therapy. And sometimes it might be finding a community you love and who loves you: a place where you are not just tolerated but celebrated. This vastly underestimated element of community (along with movement) can heal us in places no pill or surgical instrument can touch. (Eastern society already understands community but we have not really grasped it fully in the West.)
Getting the help you need might also mean (for example) that after years of weightlifting and exercise you might need:
a longer warm-up
a monthly massage
regular physical therapy
But making accommodations for your age or getting the help you need for your age is not the same as "acting your age" – particularly when you're a woman in our society where once your uterus is no longer functioning (or gone) you become invisible. Screw being invisible. We're still here. We're older, wiser, and more badass than ever. Women of a vintage age, please do NOT shut up and sit in a corner and wait to die. That is not what you were born to do, that is not your birthright, and that is not your destiny. Fight. Raise hell. We need you!
Keep the Big Picture In Mind
There's a saying that you need three things for a happy life:
Something to love
Something to do
Something to look forward to
That seems like too easy of an answer, right? But sometimes the truth is that simple. And don't underestimate the power of #3. Feisty people are out there every day, focused on getting back to what they love to do. And I'm here to tell you: it's a lot more fun than sitting on the couch and giving up.
So the next time someone tells you to "act your age"? Feel free to smile and wave. You've got more important things to do than waste time explaining to them why you’re heading out on your mountain bike or you just signed up for a triathlon or you need to deadlift 200lbs in your garage.
And if you see any of those articles about how to dress or wear your hair after a certain age? Toss that junk out like the garbage it is. Darling, you are beautiful, even in a geeky bike helmet and spandex. Go ride.
Thanks for reading Strong Starts in the Mind! Subscribe for free to learn more about mindset. And coming in August: a multi-week dive into the components of a strong mindset. Look for that announcement soon!