50 at 50

So it happened, without a lot of fanfare or hullabaloo.  I turned a chronological corner this month.  I passed the fiftieth mile marker on the road of life.   I would like to say that it doesn’t feel any different than 49, but it does.

It surely does.

I had planned a gathering of friends the weekend prior to that auspicious day, but as sometimes happens with “best laid plans,” it had to be postponed.  Ah, well…

The morning of – June 15th – I awoke feeling like I’d somehow been run down in my bed by an industrial truck of some sort.  Not sick, but suddenly sore and creaky.  I thought, “Ruh roh…is THIS what I have to look forward to?”

According to my friends who are “of a certain age” and older…yes.  That’s exactly what I have to look forward to.  Huzzah.  However, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Yes, the layers of years that comprise this body willingly takes the challenge of paying the price to possess the wisdom that I do now.

Wisdom isn’t having the answers to everything, but rather having the experience to know how to get through anything.  It’s remembering what didn’t work before and having the chutzpah to change the way you do it the second (or third, or fourth) time around.

Some of the things I’ve learned in fifty years came through trial and tribulation, some of it easily enough.  The things that came easy did not – and do not – leave lasting impressions.  It’s the times you’ve had to out think your younger self and maintain the patience needed to see it through.  In that spirit, here are fifty things, in no particular order, that I’ve learned by the age of 50:

  1. Patience is not only a proverbial virtue, it is imperative as we grow older.  As we learn that things happen in their own time and that we cannot force them before their time, we understand (at last) that this universe has its own rhythms and that we don’t always influence them.  At the risk of sounding trite…slow down.  And most of all, find patience with yourself.
  2. Love, when we’re younger, is a very powerful force, one that threatens to shatter us with its incredible beauty and strength.  As difficult as it might be to believe, not everyone has experienced the same love you have.  Some may have experienced something they thought was love, but were working from insufficient information.  Be kind to people, for we never know what values or beliefs others have grown into or come from.  Sometimes love can simply take the form of being nice to another for no obvious reason.  Consider it.
  3. Age should not stop you from braving new ideas and new things.  We believe, perhaps foolishly, that we don’t have to learn anything else by this time in our lives.  That’s not true.  My grandparents learned how to use email and the internet when they were in their late eighties.  They took to it like fish to water and it helped them keep in touch with their families and friends.  Keep that in mind. Sometimes change IS good and just because you’ve been doing it your way for decades, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.
  4. It’s harder to make new friends.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  Get involved.  Volunteer.  Join a group that aligns with your ongoing interests.
  5. Success is really what you make it.  I come from meager beginnings, and where I once imagined myself incredibly rich and powerful, I learned that those misguided ideals never suited me.  Keep your “wants” simple, and your needs met.  And learn how to tell the difference.
  6. Saying things like “I’m too damn old for this!” creates the illusion in the people around you that you ARE old.  If that’s what you’re aiming for, have at it.  If what you’re trying to say is, “This is difficult and I don’t understand it,” then approach it from that angle instead.  You’ll learn so much more by your willingness to understand rather than automatically resisting.
  7. Don’t let anyone rush you into anything. No one who has your best interests in mind will urge you to hurry.  Don’t let others push you around, no matter how old you are.
  8. Wear sunscreen.  Older skin damages more quickly and doesn’t bounce back as easily, if at all.  You’ve made it this far, don’t risk it all now. If you require a reminder, link here. 
  9. Don’t kid yourself about not being able to see or hear as well as you used to.  Believing others will think less of you because of it is a false belief, and only serves to endanger yourself and those around you.  Aging is not shameful.  Our bodies are designed to be finite, not infinite, no matter how young we feel in our thoughts.  Take care of things as they arise so you don’t put yourself and others at risk.
  10. You don’t have to explain yourself to others.  Those who question your methods are not worth explaining to.  However, if someone is asking intelligent questions and show a willingness to learn, you have the obligation to teach them if you can, otherwise, what’s the point of all this wisdom?  It’s like money…you’re not taking it with you when you go.
  11. You’re going to have good days and bad days, same as it ever was.  As we get older, though, those bad days seem harder and harder to tolerate.  Try not to let them frustrate you into doing something impulsive or, worse, stupid.
  12. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask for answers.  Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we have the answers to everything.  Sometimes someone else has the answer, and you won’t know until you ask.
  13. Don’t let others dictate to you how to live.  No one else knows what it’s like to be you, so why should you assume they know best?
  14. Don’t let yourself go.  Keep active, keep your mind busy.  Becoming a vegetable hastens the process of dying, and we get there soon enough.  Trust me.
  15. The world does not exist to cater to us.  Sometimes we have to do some of the work to make things easier.  Getting older is not for sissies, but find creative ways to make it work for you.
  16. Hobbies are awesome.  Gardening, reading, exploring new films, going to the museum or art gallery, or, finances allowing, taking in the latest new play at your local theater are great ways to broaden your horizons.   There’s nothing worse than dwindling horizons.
  17. Retire when you’re ready.  Not when others tell you you should.
  18. There’s no good reason to fall behind on learning the latest technology.  There’s nothing more alienating than feeling you don’t understand something but are too afraid to take the steps to correct it.  Your local library offers free classes on just about anything.
  19. Expand your vocabulary.  This goes a long way to increasing your understanding of things you might not currently understand.
  20. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.  This is as relevant now as it was twenty years ago.
  21. Cultivate your eccentricities.  They make you unique.  And memorable.
  22. Don’t believe everything you read.  You’ve gotten this far in life thinking for yourself, don’t stop now.
  23. Relationships are like the tides…they ebb and flow.  Don’t clutch to a relationship or friendship just because you’re afraid of growing old alone…especially unhealthy relationships.  They’re not worth it now any more than they were before.
  24. Consider a canine companion.  There are MANY animal rescue groups just waiting to pair you with your ideal companion.
  25. Intelligence has always been sexy, and that won’t change anytime soon.
  26. Don’t fall prey to believing that you can buy your way into heaven.  No one knows what happens after we die…not even the televangelist begging for your money with false promises or the door-to-door religion salesman.
  27. Before you criticize others, try to remember what it was like for you at the ages of 16, 22, 28, and 30.
  28. Become a mentor.  There are always others who will benefit from your years on this planet.  Even if you already have kids, there are those who need you and who are willing to listen and learn.
  29. Everyone is entitled to have an opinion, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to provide them without being asked.  Choose your battles.
  30. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to recapture your childhood, or your youth.  Buying that sports car to impress others makes you look desperate, not younger.  It’s okay to act the age you are, not the age you wished you were.
  31. Cultivate graceful aging.
  32. Don’t stop seeking whatever it is you want.  Continue to question everything.
  33. Remember: the young man knows the rules, the old man knows the exceptions.
  34. Embrace the life you have.  Be grateful for something every day.
  35. “Age before beauty” is merely a suggestion, not a rule.
  36. Our emotions are more easily manipulated as we age.  Take care to understand the difference between your emotions and your core identity.  They are not the same thing.  “You” are not your “emotions.”  Likewise, sentiments are merely emotions wrapped in the sepia cloak of time.  Sentiments are great for rainy days, but won’t necessarily serve you well in life.
  37. It’s okay to eat dinner at 4 o’clock.  Farmers have been doing it for hundreds of years.
  38. There are a lot more things to talk about than the weather, unless the weather is newsworthy.  Stay up on current events.  Initiate discussions. If you don’t agree with someone else’s opinion, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.  Nor does it mean you’re wrong.
  39. Discussing ailments or age-related health issues is fine as long as it’s with your health care professional.  The lady on the bus doesn’t really care.
  40. Don’t be afraid to try new things.  It’s only scary until you’re comfortable with them.
  41. No one can make you feel bad.  Only you can make you feel bad.
  42. Celebrate the differences between things in your life now and things as they might’ve been in your past.  Don’t complain about them.
  43. Maintain good manners, even when it seems that everyone around you has misplaced theirs.
  44. It’s okay to stand up for yourself.
  45. If others insist on “right” fighting, walk away.  In their minds, they’ll always be right, even when they’re not.
  46. Aging comes with different sets of rules.  That doesn’t mean you need to follow them.  See item #33.
  47. “On Golden Pond” is a great film about aging.  Watch it.
  48. You don’t know when you’re going to die, nor does anyone else.  Stop living as if it’ll be tomorrow.
  49. You’re not the same person you were even a few years ago.  Stop fighting changes within yourself and learn to embrace them.
  50. Lists such as this one are subjective to the person writing them.   They’re not rule books for others.  Remember that.