"On Turning 70."
I approached turning 70 with mixed emotions. On the one hand, sadness. On the other, curiosity.
Sadness because of the statistical reality, on average, that I only have ten to fifteen more good years left, years in which I will be fully healthy, energetic and productive. Of course I might get lucky and stay healthy until 90. But I’ve seen age 90 up close: my parents are both turning 91 and this is a very challenging time for them, both physically and mentally.
I understand that I can’t count on good health forever. Nor can anyone, despite eating right, exercising, drinking in moderation, etc., and despite the continued trumpeting of the 100-year life. Actually, I (and many other Boomers) might get to three digits but it’s hard to predict what physical and mental shape we’ll be in.
But I can count on curiosity. Now that I’m 70, I am delighted to report that I’ve got it in spades. What happens next? What (small) mountains am I inspired to climb in the coming decade? What’s left on my bucket list - or shall I make a new one? What new things do I want to learn?
How can I make a difference in the world around me? How can I become a better person: a good listener, a more patient wife, a more tolerant mother, a more engaged grandmother?
At 70, I’m an enthusiastic and committed member of the “positive aging” movement. I’m proud to be part of a growing demographic. As Chip has ably demonstrated through Modern Elder Academy, it’s all about your mindset. A recent Facebook post announced that “it’s weird being the same age as old people.” Ha ha. Yes. That is precisely the point. Those of us in this movement are blazing new ground as we demonstrate over and over that aging is not a disease. Becoming an “old person” is something to embrace and make the most of.
Growing older does bring changes, of course, and I do have to work to alter my mindset about them. I still think of dying as something that happens to other people. I need to re-think that. The roll of fat around my middle is not going away; I’m starting to be okay with that. My libido is much quieter than it once was; saddening but also, frankly, liberating.
And yet a confession: as a reasonably attractive “older” woman, I miss flirting. I miss getting glances of approval and interest from younger men. Although it still does happen occasionally! (Don’t tell my husband. We are happily married.)
So here is some advice to myself for the coming decade. Maybe you’ll find it useful as well:
#1: Put aside shame
There are so many things to feel shame about. Most belong in the “not enough” category: I’m not a good enough writer; I haven’t been successful enough (whatever that means); I’m not productive enough. Better to redefine what is most important. Write more shitty first drafts (thank you, Anne Lamott), try more new things, don’t worry about failing.
#2: Yes, keep trying new things
I’ve recently taken up the cello. My teacher lives five minutes away and is a former Broadway musician and singer. I have no talent. This will not go anywhere. It’s quite hard, especially fingering with your left hand. But drawing the bow across the strings makes a deep, luscious sound. I want to make more of it! And Fred doesn’t seem to mind my halting progress.
#3: Remember that reinvention happens in small steps
Reinvention happens much more slowly than you might think. I set out to reinvent myself almost a decade ago when I left DC with my husband, Sam Harrington. We deliberately chose to drop out of the status-seeking world we had been a part of for over 30 years. Now we live in a small community on the coast of Maine where, frankly, we are happier and better citizens.
We’ve both become leaders in our community over the past eight years. We’ve done things that we never could have imagined in our previous life. Sam, a retired physician, wrote a book. I host a podcast about reinventing life and work beyond midlife and making the most of growing older.
It turns out that 70 is a great age to be. I can’t wait to see what reinvention will bring next.
Debbie Weil is a three-time MEA grad, host of the [B]OLDER podcast, and a nonfiction writing coach. She and her husband, Sam Harrington, live in Stonington, ME.