Are you Age-Curious, Cautious, Contemplative or Catastrophic?

January 27, 2022

Are you Age-Curious, Cautious, Contemplative or Catastrophic?

May 29, 2023

In February I will turn 55. It is a lovely number and an easy milestone to slide into. It turns out I am the poster child for our most common demographic at MEA, age 54. Does that mean our average age will… age along with me?

We are funny humans when it comes to age. Sometimes we are curious about reaching a certain age, other times cautious. Sometimes we may wax contemplative about the marching of time ever forward. Yet, most of us have had at least one moment in this midlife road trip that felt downright catastrophic. (Come on, you know you have had one or two along the way).

Can you think of a milestone birthday or age that really hit you? Often it happens around a new decade. For some it brings up fear, dread or avoidance. For others, it signals a welcome opportunity for growth and change.

When I turned 49, it was a milestone year, and I was surprised to notice how reactive I felt. The idea of turning 50 (even though it was a year away) was a complete shock to my psyche. I didn’t feel like someone about to turn 50, and my head was filled with all the ageist, over-the-hill branding that went with it. Suddenly, the fact that I needed glasses for driving was a complete affront to my competency. Random gray hair was a betrayal of genetics. You could say that I was “Age Catastrophic.”

I was getting old.

What did that mean?

As the year progressed, I settled into a more neutral place and became “Age Cautious.” What did midlife mean? I never cared much how I looked, and this inner angst was not tied to anything superficial. Yet, I recognized feeling deep anxiety about what aging, or midlife represented. Was I in it? Was it going to be a crisis? What qualifications were required and when would it end?

Naming a feeling is a great first step to becoming more objective, and being a super nerd and bookworm, I became “Age Curious.” My intrigue led me (like many of you) to start reading. I discovered an entire world of extraordinary thought leaders like Mary Catherine Bateson and Dr. Bill Thomas who were coining this new phase of life as something entirely different than I thought, and instead something rather extraordinary. MEA guest faculty member Ashton Applewhite and I connected before her seminal book, “This Chair Rocks,” was published, and I was indoctrinated into the world of recognizing ageism and becoming an activist to rewrite the narrative. I was hooked, and a new purpose ignited.

My curiosity combined with developed skills led me to working in “positive aging” or the “longevity movement.” I found two extraordinary mentors running a global non-profit who needed help. Jan is 35 years my senior and runs rings around me in clarity, drive and capacity. She is finally stepping down this year at age 90.

I am no longer afraid to grow old. I am all in. Reaching age 55, I have become “Age Contemplative.”

Recently, I posed the question about remembering a pivotal moment of aging to some of our students enjoying a Sabbatical Session at our Baja campus. Erin shared her milestone year was age 41 when health challenges for her and her family triggered a sense of losing control and wondering, “where am I going?” It felt “Age Catastrophic” to her at first, and then she also became “Age Curious.”

“Something went ‘whomp’ inside of me and I decided I don’t want to grieve the past. I wanted to reject the narrative of middle age. I wanted to thrive.”

Wanda’s moment was turning 50. She consciously chose to be “Age Contemplative” and threw an “Illumination birthday party” where all her guests wore white, and it became a moment for her to become “self-realized.” She was post-divorce and intending to look at life “through the lens of the Divine.” She felt that her hedonistic “ego past” was leaving and was at peace starting a new journey. 17 years later, she feels even more connected to her true essence.

Studies with giants like Dr. Becca Levy at Yale have shown the way we think about aging has a direct link on our health and impacts how long we live. Get this: if you have a positive, open and curious approach to getting older you are likely to live seven years longer. This stat still blows my mind.

Together we can stop catastrophizing aging and contemplate what it means to be a modern elder. I am so proud to work with MEA and help to bring such a rich community together.

Join us to explore “Navigating Midlife Transitions” for an 8-week online journey that will absolutely change how you view the next chapters of your life. We are only offering it once this year, and we kick off February 26th. Our super early bird pricing ends January 31, 2022, so check it out and hope to see you there to get contemplative together!

Kari Henley is the SVP of Digital & Alumni Strategy at MEA, and the developer of our Online programs.

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