In my 30s, I had the good fortune to work with AARP and to have the opportunity to think about life after 50 when I hadn’t nearly gotten there yet. It changed my perspective on aging.
Until that point, I hadn’t considered how age-ism operates in our world. And yet I knew that whenever I imagined an older person, I’d think of someone who was keeled over, hard of hearing, and cantankerous in some way — which is how the TV and movies always seemed to depict them. Instead, through the members of AARP I encountered generations of people who came across as enlightened, unusually direct about their opinions, and at every turn freely sharing with me that their sex lives were magnificent.
One of my favorite observations was how the idea of “being old” is entirely relative. For instance, if you talk with someone in their 60s, they’ll say, while pointing to someone in their 70s, “I’m not old. She’s old!” And then when you hang out with someone in their 70s they’ll point at someone in their 80s and say, “I’m not old. He’s old!” And so on.
So when I had the opportunity to participate in a fireside chat with Medium’s VP of Product Design, Alexis Lloyd, and the Medium community, and when a question arose as to my career’s various arcs and “the why” behind it all, I guess my answer of, “I don’t know” had an off-tune landing.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been long fascinated with the end of life. And by acknowledging it, I’ve tried to discount its existence as much as possible.
I mean, there’s that whole Simon Sinek trope about “know the WHY” and so forth — it only makes sense that someone like me would know my WHY. But I really don’t. And then it hit me that the “don’t you know your WHY?” question isn’t something one would ask someone much younger than myself, but it might feel a bit disturbing as to why a more senior person doesn’t have a good WHY. I mean, isn’t that what WHY-se people do with themselves?
Maybe it’s because I’ve been long fascinated with the end of life. And by acknowledging it, I’ve tried to discount its existence as much as possible. For example, in the 90s I created a simple PHP script to figure out how many springs were left in my life, based on the average lifespan in the country you reside. Let me check my “Life Countdown” to see how I’m doing:
Hmmmmm. Not that many springs are left for me. And I do recall when I last ran this script, it felt a little shorter than I wanted. But now that I look at it today, I’m thinking to myself, “Gotta live this life even harder now!” If I think too hard about the WHY, I might not do anything. I prefer to do versus think, and it might be because I prefer to be “unfinished” instead of “done.” Or, as Ray Kroc used to say, “I’d rather be green and growing, instead of ripe and ready to rot.”
I’m not done yet.
Think of a green tomato — it’s got ripening to do. Now think of a red tomato — it’s only next step is to go rotten. Relatedly, in my late 30s, I heard a celebratory toast that has always stuck with me, as to why I prefer to be a green tomato. It went like this:
“When you’re young and up-and-coming, everyone tells you … “You … have such potential. Such great potential!”
When you’re older, everyone tells you … “You did such great things. You … really made an impact!”
The trick I’ve figured out, having had the chance to meet and talk with incredible people from all generations, is … to always be told … no matter how old you are … that, “you have potential.”
The key to life is always being told that you have potential.”
For that reason, I’ve always imagined hearing a voice in my head telling me that I still have potential. It’s usually my mom’s voice. But when I can’t hear her, I hear myself reminding me to think that way. Because I believe it’s the key to staying able to imagine that you’re not old.
That person who’s 10 or more years older than you? THEY are old! Not you! You still have potential! You’re not done yet. I’m not done yet. Because I still have potential :+).You do, too!