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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #211
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In America we have the story that … your sex drive evaporates. … Nobody wants to sleep with you, but you don’t want to sleep with them either. … And it turns out that that is really much more of a cultural story than a biological story, and … people’s behavior responds to this cultural story. …
In France there’s a slightly different narrative. … Women in their 50s and 60s in France are much more sexually active than women in America are. So I don’t think you can … snap your fingers and switch cultural narratives. But just knowing that it’s not biologically inevitable I think gives you some power over it.” —Pamela Druckerman, author of the new book There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story (read the entire NPR interview here)
Over the past four or five years I have taken notice of how women step into each year of their life after forty. Whether women who are in my inner circle or women in the media spotlight, I listen to how they speak about their physical capabilities, their physical beauty, their curiosities, their chapters in life, the roles and careers they wish to stay or become a part of. As someone who is 39 and has truly let my age just be a number, not centering my identity around my age as it is one detail I cannot control (sometimes I forget my age, does that happen to anyone else?), I am intrigued in the shift in what is expected of women by women – and thus society – as they age through the decades. Because our message to each other has power, and that message in large part tells the world what will be accepted or ignored. As someone bringing up the tail-end of Generation X and partially straddling into the Millennial Generation, I certainly have seen a shift in the knowledge and thus attention to good health when it comes to fitness and well-being as opposed to my grandmother’s generation. A tremendous shift in society in the late 20th century brought to our attention what our bodies and minds are truly capable of so long as we care for them well.
I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her whip-smart, savvy prowess on the Highest Court in the country at the age of 85. I think of Dame Helen Mirren who at the age of 72 continues to playfully immerse herself in her acting career and her life as she explores the world. I think of 52-year old Oscar winning actress Viola Davis and her determination and talent on the big screen and small screen, as well as her physical good health and Sandra Bullock as well as Cate Blanchett and Michelle Obama and Diane Keaton and and and and . . . the list goes on.
Each one of these women marries knowledge with curiosity and applies it to their mental as well as physical health. Physical maladies can certainly befall us due to genetics, but there is far more health obstacles that are avoidable so long as we provide ourselves with the information and live in such a way to be preventative.
Two situations happened over the past couple of years that found me responding in frustration internally, but saying nothing in the moment. The first was a situation with my own mother and my young pre-teen niece in which my mother said something about what was physically inevitable when you hit “her age”. In actuality, what she shared was false, and I later did say something in private to my mom as I am someone who has heard such “untruths” from older women when I was young. I know now that what they shared was their ignorance regarding how the body grows and ages, but I didn’t want my niece to have to navigate toward to the truth when the knowledge was readily available. The second situation is an ongoing one as I have a dear friend who refuses to say her age or acknowledge her birthday as her husband told me she is “sensitive about her age”. While I respected this wish, I also want her to know how much I want to celebrate her because I think she is absolutely amazing, talented and uber intelligent.
The truth is if we as women will let go of identifying ourselves with our age, then half of the world will stop seeing us through the narrow lens of assumption regarding what “should be” happening at a particular point. We all know that with different people, different things happen at different periods of our lives. Case in point, actress Rachel Weisz is pregnant at 48, yet press in the U.K. is fearful it may be nearly too late for Meghan Markle to conceive. Are you kidding me? What we consume or accept as a culture can either limit us or liberate us. What we allow to be accepted because we do not contradict it when we know it is utterly false will continue to be perpetuated. We can either speak up or act in such a way that demonstrates the falsehoods are indeed false. Each of us will choose what is most comfortable for us – speaking or acting, but I implore you to not shrink to fit inside the limiting box that society would have women at any age stay within.
Part of the difficulty with staying relevant, man or woman, is staying apprised of the dynamic world we live in. With each year we are layering more information on top of what we already know and in so doing we become acutely aware of how much we still have to learn. It can become overwhelming. It happened this year as a teacher who began teaching at 22 and knew how to relate culturally with the students – the music, the films, the colloquialisms, each far simpler to grasp and understand because I was partially still in their bubble – that I acknowledged and took note that I could be considered two generations removed from my students. While I still understood some of the references made by students, there were cultural allusions that no more my students grasped (the 80s hit sitcom Cheers, for example). While some cult classics are returning and being devoured by teenagers thanks to Netflix and YouTube – FRIENDS, The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross on PBS, etc. – but after listening to different podcasts my students will bring my attention to or music my students will mention in class, I am reminded that we all live and will always live in a dynamic world. And the key is to understand how to remain involved, knowledgable and curious instead of quailing, shrinking or removing ourselves due to fear or confusion or exhaustion.
How to remain a part of the ever-changing world:
1. Build a social network of all ages
One of the benefits of teaching is that there is youth everywhere each and every year. While yes, it’s kind of like Groundhog’s Day (the film), the benefits far outweigh the negatives as I am reminded that learning is always available if we choose to seize the knowledge and therefore change is perpetually constant. Progress is always possible and staying the same is never a good idea if we wish to reach our full potential. And so why not build friendships, acquaintances, mentor or mentee relationships with individuals of all ages? When we do and do so with an open mind, our perspective is broaden, our understanding deepens and we come to appreciate where we’ve been, how far we’ve come or become even more excited about where we are heading.
2. Refrain from ageist comments (younger or older)
The quickest way to shut-down an opportunity to get to know someone is to make assumptions about what is expected at a certain age. When we do this, instead of seeing the individual and being patient enough to get to know the individual, we are telling them (consciously or unconsciously), who they truly are and who they are capable of becoming is not all that important to us. As well, when we make ageist comments we perpetuate limitations that we ourselves will eventually be subjected to. In other words, we have the power with the words we do or do not utter to change how society views anyone at any age.
3. Master your mind and cultivate a positive mindset
“When it comes to staying young, a mind-lift beats a face-lift any day.” ~Marty Buccella
Providence, St. Joseph Health shares, “Negativity saps vitality and creates stress, which affects your health and well-being.” So literally, by being cynical, negative or close-minded, we are exacerbating the aging process and making ourselves physically older unnecessarily.
4. Let go of the word “should”
Whether speaking to others and expressing what you think they “should” be doing or the internal dialogue that runs through your head saying you “should” be doing something in your life at any given point, stop. Nobody wants to hear what they should be doing. Instead inspire others to do something with how you live your life or simply let them navigate their way in their own way.
5. Seek out diverse experiences that stretch you
Whether with the places you travel to, the food you eat, the books you read, the podcasts you listen to or the people you engage with in conversation, let your curiosity be fed. Often the reason individuals regress into what they’ve known and the “way it has always been” or “when I was younger” constructs and wish to stay there is because they are fearful of the unknown. What they know is comfortable, and we all somewhere along the continuum want comfort. However, too often, when we don’t know about a particular culture, a particular way of life that becomes more prevalent in society due to news coverage or a change in economic structure, until we explore, prompts people to make limiting assumptions that shrink our world.
The world is big, vast, amazing and from my experience here on the blog and in my own travels meeting people from around the world, the majority of us are seeking contentment, love and peace. This may sound over-simplified, but truly, our general goal is the same, it is a matter of having the courage to keep asking questions, keep making ourselves vulnerable and recognize that we do not have all the answers and respecting all people as they too are trying to figure it out.
How to enjoy each passing year more than the last:
1. Learn something new regularly
“For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of the harvest.” ~Hasidic saying
I have seen the deterioration of one’s mind in late age when a particular octogenarian who prided himself on having only read one book in his life gradually sees the quality of his life diminish. Knowledge is power in not only understanding how to live, but in keeping ourselves vibrant and able to engage with the world fully. Studies have recently been shared that regular cognitive challenges – problem-solving, learning a new skills, in other words brain exercises – are good for brain health. It is something we keep alive or by not giving it “homework” passively let wither away. Once we have the knowledge and understand how to continue to acquire it as we move through life, then we can apply it and see the benefits of the efforts we’ve made – thus the harvest. So keep planting seeds and continue to see your harvest become richer and richer with each passing year.
2. Choose to understand the world
Providing context as to why events happened, why people made the decisions they made and why people reacted as they did deepens not only our understanding of the world but also how to move and live successfully in it so as to live a life we are proud to share with the world as well as reflect upon. Never settle for one person’s version of events, explore, ask questions, pick up a biography of someone else who lived in that time, read a historical account from multiple perspectives and come to understand that the world isn’t simple, events aren’t a singular cause and effect, but more often a confluence of causes that create the outcome that after some time has passed becomes simplified into a singular soundbite. As well, come to understand the social sciences – psychology and sociology and how people interact with others, how our minds work, how our bodies work regarding hormones, endorphins, adrenaline, etc. Choosing to understand the full human experience paired with the events of the world that led us to where we as a world are today is empowering and can assist us as we figure out how we wish to move forward.
3. Contribute to the world
In another study, it demonstrated that we must live in such a way that goes beyond giving, or “feeling useful”; we must take action so as to do something that leaves the world better than when we found it. Taking action will be different for each of us, but just giving of our time to help the next generation isn’t enough (it’s a start). Sometimes taking action will not be comfortable for those around us. Sometimes it will not be comfortable to us as we will have to push ourselves to learn something new, shift our views and understanding about something we had become accustomed to but now we realize we were wrong, misled or misinformed. But when we find a purpose that fuels us, that we truly have a passion for, we will find the fuel to push forward. And in pushing forward, the example we share with the world will potentially alter how society comes to understand what is possible at any given age.
4. Let go of negative stereotypes and stop perpetuating them regardless of your age
“Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.” ~Jackie Joyner-Kersee
A study conducted at Yale revealed that “older adults who held more positive age stereotypes lived 7.5 years longer than their peers who held negative age-related stereotypes”. Not only should we shift away from negative age stereotypes we should stop burdening others with these beliefs as well. Whether it is our observation and commentary about strangers on the street, in the store or mere acquaintances, refrain from defaulting to ageist remarks (about those older or younger than you). When we assume, we limit what we are willing to explore as we get to know people, and I am confident none of us would want to be limited.
5. Revel in each year
“The trouble is, when a number—your age—becomes your identity, you’ve given away your power to choose your future.” ~Richard J. Leider
Right now I am soaking up all that the remainder of my third decade on this glorious planet will share with me. As well, I am excited to enter into my fourth. When we choose to be present in our lives, we create memories that will always be with us. No we cannot go back and relive them literally, but we can in our memories and that is a gift we can take with us for any age we reach down the road. Each year has the opportunity to be your singular definition of what it is to be [pick a number]. And it is important to remember that that is your definition and yours alone. To place it on someone else and expect them to live the same as you is to limit what they may be curious about. On the flip side, embrace what you are curious about each year. Embrace what the universe has given to you in this particular year and drink it up like it was water in the desert. When you revel, you enliven your being and you share with the world your exuberance. That is how we shift age stereotypes.
6. Take the risk
Maybe you’ve had a dream in your mind for years, but you have never known anyone who took such a risk. At least not anyone in what you perceive to be your “situation”. Let go of needed a model to follow. Let go of thinking the dream shall remain a dream and instead take the risk. Do the necessary homework and then give yourself permission to get so absolutely excited about living the life you have dreamed about. Yes, you can live that life. And that will enliven you like you never could have imagined.
From time to time I will catch myself pushing back against progress when it finds me quite comfortable with where I am in my life (a state that is not always easy to attain for any one of us as we strive toward goals), and then I poke myself. It is at that moment that I remind myself that progress is good as it demonstrates to all of us that we are alive, the world is alive and has the capability of improving. Even when we think we are comfortable (as I have felt in those moments), we often are limiting what we understand to be possible in the quality of our lives. Often I do think part of the push back to progress is exhaustion (which is why it is imperative to get a regular night’s sleep – I kid only slightly). Perhaps not physical, but emotional exhaustion as we have seen and experienced and worked for so much and we don’t know if we have the energy to continue to strive, shift and improve like we have in the past. But that is when we need to seek out others who see the world and all of its potential as we do, and then we can find the energy we think has been lost. Thus another reason to build a social network of all ages.
The world is greater with more diverse voices, lives and experiences. And with each year of our lives we deepen what we bring to the world so long as we continue to truly live each year we are given.
~SIMILAR POSTS FROM THE ARCHIVES YOU MIGHT ENJOY:
~fresh seasonal fruit, in my case most recently – Oregon strawberries
Recipes to try:
- A fresh strawberry tart
- Strawberry & Rhubarb Tartlet (or tart)
- Homemade Ricotta Mousse with fresh strawberries (or your berry of choice)
~SPONSORS of Today’s Episode:
- Troos skincare & apothecary – www.troosskin.com
- promo code: SIMPLE for 30% off your purchase