Fifty-eight billion dollars. That’s how much the anti-aging market is estimated to be worth. From skin cream to collagen injections, it seems the whole nation is emptying their pockets to avoid the natural aging process. It’s as though there is no price too steep to avoid the perils of growing old. Meanwhile, there are countless examples of stereotyping that consistently suggest that getting old is a horrible phase of life. There seems to be a subtly invading perception that life becomes depressing and meaningless. Hollywood depicts older adults as either clueless airheads or as over-the-top grouches with nothing to do all day but complain about various ailments. The narrative that seems to be mounting in America against growing old is a dangerous one, and it is time we started talking about it.
Let’s start with the fact that the word aging has been so effectively associated with negativity by top marketing executives who are peddling eye cream that it is no longer startling to hear the prefix “anti” placed in front of the word. Think about it. You expect to see “anti” in front of words like bullying, littering, or theft, but aging? Why? Why are we against aging?
Aging should be upheld as a sacred process of growing wise, gathering a lifetime of experiences, and developing the next generation for success. Imagine a culture where this process is devalued to the degree that the most qualified voices among us are invalidated. Unfortunately, it’s not that hard to imagine.
The elder generation has lived through multiple wars, economic ups and downs, they’ve seen the rapid growth of technology and innovation and yet, they are marketed as empty-headed or frail. If this narrative is not silenced, we will continue to behave as though we are a nation of know-it-alls without need of the wisdom and guidance of those who came before us. This is foolishness.
So, how do we fix it?
Consider your own voice
It’s time we shift the narrative in our own voice first. Stop fussing over each birthday and obsessing over each gray hair. Aging is about personal growth and development. Aren’t you glad you aren’t where you were years ago? Celebrate all that life has taught you in your years and live each day with gratitude for how you may continue to grow. Be mindful of how you speak about age and shift your speech towards honoring the process instead. The narrative in America begins to return to a place of honoring older adults when we choose to live out the process of aging with a firm grip on living, really living! A constant state of sulking over days gone by or lamenting that the energetic days of our youth are behind us only seems to solidify the idea that there is an expiration date on living a full life. Instead, commemorate the many roads you have taken to arrive at this very destination, older and wiser. This is how the narrative begins to shift, one example of graceful aging at a time. Afterall, we don’t want to get old…we want to grow old. Getting old is something that happens to you, while growing old is something that is accomplished on purpose. It’s all about growth!
Take Larry Beck, for example. Beck is a resident at Stevenson Oaks, a brand-new retirement community in Fort Worth and part of the Methodist Retirement Communities’ system of non-profit, faith-based communities. Beck shared, “(As I have gotten older in age, I find myself wanting to contribute more to society, friends, and family not less. In my growing employment years my focus was on me and achieving more and more success in business and in finances, but that drive changed over time. Now I find myself wanting to and being able to help others in ways that was not possible when I was ‘in-the-race’. My creative juices have never been greater than they are now and that greatness came from life-long experiences. The beauty of being older is truly that you are wiser and more compassionate. The rewards I receive now are not in money or promotion but a in smile, a thank you, or a hug. I may not be able to do more pushups but I can do more upward pushes!”
Consider the next generation
We must teach our children the art of conversation and the value of curiosity so that they can glean as much as possible from their elders. Sit them down to gather grandma’s stories before it’s too late. Let them hear how children’s clothes were made from flour sacks during the Great Depression, make sure they know what it was like to watch man walk on the moon for the first time, and ensure they capture the teachings that build values like hard work, love of country, and unshakable faith. Cherish the stories, the songs, the recipes, and teachings of the aging before these assets become extinct and our children are robbed of the opportunity to learn from them.
Beck was one of the fortunate teens from Burleson High School’s civics class who was invited to attend the famous breakfast with President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The President and his wife were greeted by an enthusiastic group who even waited in the rain to see them. “We didn’t get to approach him or get very close,” recalled Beck. Kennedy famously encouraged the crowd saying, “There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth!” as he looked across the eager, yet rain-soaked group awaiting his arrival. Beck went on to describe the moment the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce officials presented him with a ten-gallon cowboy hat. “He refused to put it on because he didn’t want to mess up his neatly combed hair,” laughed Beck. Later that day, as Beck rode the bus back to Burleson with his fellow classmates, they were stunned to hear the message coming across the radio, the President had been shot. Now 60 years later, Beck recalls the events of that day and the shared grief that swept across the nation with great accuracy. Certainly, this story and thousands more are worth sharing, from those who lived through it, with the next generation.
Consider making new, old friends
We must reset our own perceptions. If you have bought into the lie that seniors are dull creatures who are just waiting for their next dose of fiber, you are greatly mistaken. It might be time for you to make some new, old friends. Consider volunteering at a retirement community so that you can see first-hand that old age is nothing to fear or prevent. It is to be embraced and celebrated. You’ll meet a whole tapestry of interesting people, each unique and vibrant in their own way. Beck and his fellow residents at Stevenson Oaks are pushing back on these stereotypes in a multitude of ways.
Beck shared, “Fun is not restricted by age. Laughing is not limited to the young. Gaming is not only for our youth (except maybe wrestling). Learning is not just for the students. Adventures are reserved for the vacationer. We live life with others who may have different backgrounds, beliefs, and persuasions but all have a common drive to live younger. You can enjoy life better when life includes challenges, fun, friends and family…and a shade tree!”
Consider the future
Beck shared one last warning, “Don’t let an opportunity escape you. It’s time you took advantage of your elders because they already know what you are yet to learn!”
Remember, aging is one of life’s great equalizers. If you aren’t there yet, you will be. We are all aging, just at different stages. Let’s do away with the anti-aging narrative and reset our vocabularies and our perceptions. In doing so, perhaps in the future we will become a nation that deeply values its elders, giving them the rightful place of honor within our culture.