Of course, there are down sides to ageing, namely the fact that since ancient times it’s been synonymous with bodily decay. The Greeks went so far as to see ageing as a disease. However, recent scientific research suggests that ageing isn’t a straightforward decline after all, and I would argue that there are considerably more upsides than downsides.
Incline Rather than Decline
In a youth-obsessed society, there’s a lot of pressure to avoid ageing for as long as possible. The increase of plastic surgery and anti-ageing products is indicative of this hurry to outsmart our age but the truth is, that no matter how many procedures we undergo or products we use or buy, ageing happens to us all, and quicker than we realise. So much money goes into coercing us to fight our natural ageing process, the worse we feel about the way we look, the more money we spend on changing it. You can see how many industries bank on our insecurities. Rarely any attention is given to the many positive and life-changing benefits that come with entering the 40+ and 50+ club.
Your 40’s Are Nothing to Fear
When ageing, many of us enter fear… we start to freak out. But, as we know, fear doesn’t tend to bring about anything positive unless it’s as a reaction to something life-threatening. So how do we overcome and transform fear into something beneficial for us in this instant?
We can consider the alternative: instead of thinking life is gradually declining, perhaps we can start seeing it as inclining, getting better, as we move along. Perhaps we can start noticing and acknowledging that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. There’s no denying the downsides, we can accept and embrace our fear and the reality of our physical changes, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that this is the best time to start focusing on the upsides instead.
Let’s face it… When we point out the negatives and leave out all the benefits, we’re essentially telling ourselves and the younger generations, that once you reach a certain age, the best part of your life is over. We’re ascertaining what society and big lucrative businesses want us to believe so that we look outwards to make ourselves feel better. But frankly, my experiences so far don’t give that statement much leverage. In my mid-50’s (well passed 40), I’ve found myself in such a wonderful place physically, mentally and emotionally. Even if there are some compromises to be made on the physical front, things out of our control, the benefits and growth in the mental and emotional aspects more than offset the trade.
One of the most enriching things I did whilst I grew older was anchor myself to the following quotes about reaching the 40’s and beyond:
“No one is young after forty, but one can be irresistible at any age” Coco Chanel
“You don’t stop laughing because you grow older, you grow older because you stop laughing” Maurice Chevalier
I’m not going to lie and say that facing my forties and fifties wasn’t a real challenge. Denial is after all, never the best choice. It would have definitely helped me to have a life coach guiding me through the process at the time. A life coach can help you focus on the positive aspects of growing older as well as equip you with the support to build greater resilience.
In my opinion, going into our 40’s for an adult is the same as a child entering their teens. Your body changes shape (even more so when you have children) and your facial features can get a big of a make-over. Your hormones go wild as they adjust to a new rhythm. I remember my daughter telling me, “growing older is very painful”, when she was only 11 and I remember feeling her pain as she transitioned out of childhood and offering my support.
I don’t remember having anyone around to support me during the painful process of change when I faced my 40’s and 50’s. It was deeply painful because, as I mention in my book Stella’s Mum Gets Her Groove Back, it brings us face to face with our existential pain, that is the kind that we can’t avoid confronting as humans no matter how hard we may try. It’s in these existential periods of transition that I truly believe it’s best to have someone objective hiding our focus and anchoring us in the upsides rather than downsides of ageing. Someone like a life coach, who can remind us of our strengths, our direction and the wonderful benefits that our 40’s, 50’s and beyond offer us.
I remember feeling so self-conscious in my early twenties. When we’re younger we’re still trying to gauge our value against other people’s beauty, success and so on. We look for outside validation as we try and find our place in the world so we have anxiety about things that become a lot less relevant as we get older. I only truly started becoming comfortable with myself and in my own skin as I approached 40. Now I can honestly say that I embrace my unique spin on life and don’t waste time worrying about what others expect from me or think of me like I would have done in my twenties and thirties. As we grow older, our self-esteem can really increase given the opportunity.
As our kids go off to school and start their own lives, we finally have the opportunity to dedicate more time to us. Without constantly having to oversee our children, and if you’re retired, without the daily routine of going to the office, you start having time for yourself like never before. Today, I have more time to focus on myself, my hobbies and even my work, and this balance I’ve found between my self and others, giving and receiving, is far less laborious to maintain.
Today, I feel so much less pressure to conform and care very little for latest trends. I find it a lot easier to do what I want and need without having to justify myself nor feel like I’m being selfish. I don’t feel pressured to be like my friends my age. I also truly value and appreciate our differences and love that we can agree to disagree whilst still fully respecting one another. As you grow older, you start realising that you don’t have to apologise for who you are and you can treat others that may not agree with you with respect and compassion.
For women, peri-menopause and menopause can really ramp up the love life. At this stage in our lives, we’re far more experienced and comfortable with ourselves. We are confident about expressing our desires and needs, and most importantly we know what our desires and needs are. Also, as we go through “the change”, you no longer have to worry about falling pregnant so that fear factor (as long as you trust each other), is null. Several studies have shown the older people can have more satisfying sex, and more frequently than we might have thought.
Laura Carstensen, a psychology professor at Stamford University, carried out a study that showed that negative emotions such as sadness, anger and fear become less pronounced as we age. We all remember the roller-coaster, drama-filled younger years… thankfully they don’t tend to follow us into our 40s and over. The Gallup Poll, carried out in 2008, reported that stress and worry steadily decline after our teenage years and reach their lowest point around the 85 years mark.
In our 40’s and beyond, we inevitably have a lot more life experience behind us to gauge any decisions on going forward. We have tried and failed numerous things and many times, which has allowed us to learn and make wiser choices now that we’re older.
We’ve all heard the joke about getting things mixed up more often and forgetting quicker as we grow older and to some extent this can be the case. But most people fail to see and mention that with the life experience behind us, we’re actually better able to creatively solve complex problems.
In our later years, we develop a clearer and broader perspective as to what is relevant versus what’s not. We’re able to quickly deduce, organise and conclude information in front of us. Our ability to problem solve is streamlined after many years of practice.
Getting older is a great time to learn new skills and discover new (or old) hobbies. With more time, a greater sense of self and a heightened ability to enjoy the moment, most of us develop a strong desire to live life more fully. That old guitar that got put in storage comes out because you’re not prioritising things that may not have made you happy, now it’s all about doing what you love uncompromisingly.
As well as having more time for ourselves and for our passions, we also have more time to focus ad prioritise our health. For those who are willing to get physical, or have maintained their health over the years, the 40s and beyond are an excellent time to get fit and see what we’re really made of. Let’s not forget that time Jane Fonda published her book on aerobics… at 40.
Fair or not, middle age endows us with authority. This is one area that young people normally struggle with. There’s a tendency, when you’re older, for people to take you more seriously. You’re no longer dismissed for not being old enough or having enough experience, because age has you covered… you’ve inevitably had a lot of experience. If I enter into a discussion with people today, where a debate might arise, I find it a lot easier to stand my ground and require facts and evidence to corroborate opposing arguments.
What better time than now (entering the 40s and beyond) to go back to university and change the course of our lives. At 50, I did the same. For some women who had children young, today is an opportunity to go back and do what they couldn’t in their twenties… study. For some, it might be just the change they need to enter this next stage of life, less tied down by financial worries after years of working in their respective industries. If not now, when?
Another benefit of getting older is that we are far more inclined to let things go, at least in my experience. There’s a sense of no longer wanting to wasting time. We know the importance of the time that we do have, and what bigger a time waster than holding on to past regrets, grudges and other nonsense that adds no value. You can use age to resolve the unresolved and move on to a new stage of your life with a new lease of life.
Of course, for balanced argument’s sake, we should also highlight the most prominent (potential) downside of entering the 40s and beyond. I use the word potential but we can certainly choose to minimise or sidestep these downsides completely by becoming more aware of ourselves and finding support in others such as life coaches and counsellors.
As mentioned above, entering our 40s, and the decades that follow, can be an excruciating experience. Change is never easy, but it’s certainly made harder by the standards with which we and society holds us to. What happens then, with a lack of support or awareness, is we get sucked up in the fear and existential pain that this inevitable change brings forward, and a mid-life crisis occurs. This can take shape in different ways, some people fall into depression, some become incredibly self-conscious and seek to conceal their insecurities through material gain and aesthetic alteration, some make dramatic life changes such as leaving their families, some dedicate all their time and attention on their children. None of these extreme ‘coping mechanisms’ help us make a smooth transition, in fact, they can throw us even further out of control and we can make out-of-character choices that sabotage us entirely. Support and awareness are key in this transition, look for an impartial life coach to guide you!
Originally published at www.elisabettafranzoso.com