By Denise Hellekson, MS, LISW; The Village Business Institute
While waiting for a friend to join me for lunch, I overheard two women in the booth behind me catching up on the news and events in their life. I looked out the window and distracted myself with the activities beyond the glass in order to avoid eavesdropping as much as possible. But bits and pieces of their conversation wafted into my awareness as I drank my coffee and waited for my friend.
I could hear them talking about their lack of energy, their physical aches, pains, and weight gain, and their never-ending “To Do” list that kept them from “having a life.” At one point one of them sighed and said, “I guess we’re just getting old.”
This definitely caught my attention because they did not appear to be much older than me! It made me sad to think these beautiful women were already talking like they were resigned to a diminished life. I began to wonder; which came first; the attitude that getting older is a series of disappointments and declined physical health, or the physical aches, pains, and weight gain they discussed? And is it really due to getting older? Or have we gotten ourselves into such a habit of being governed by “To Do” lists, operating at high stress, and caretaking that we have lost sight of ourselves, our needs, and our dreams? Do we fall back into the safety and comfort of the “getting older” excuse to avoid putting the effort into ourselves?
After a lovely lunch with my friend, my thoughts returned to the issue of getting older; how much is out of our control, and how much is about the choices and attitude we take with us into the next chapter? Is life an adventure as we mature, or a long shuffle to the recliner as we watch our world become smaller and our dreams fade?
I thought of my wonderful, youthful, senior role-models like Helen; a 90-year-old co-worker who is smart as a whip and an absolute day-brightener. She began her career with us after her “retirement” (25 years ago) because she wanted to stay active and contribute to the community. Her sense of humor and vitality is an inspiration, and it’s always a good day when I can converse with her in the lunchroom. My friend Davis, who is in his mid-60’s, is exploring his options for retirement as well. Last I talked to him, he was considering either joining the Peace Corp, or working at an airbase on an island in the pacific. Whatever he decides, I know he will find a way to give back to the community and make a difference, because that is his passion, which hasn’t waned with age.
Back at the office, I went to my bookshelf for more inspiration and dusted off my copies of “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, “The 100 Simple Secrets of The Best Half of Your Life” by David Niven, and “Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well Being” by Dr. Andrew Weil . Not surprising, all three books noted the importance of a positive, optimistic attitude toward your life and the future, exercise, and staying involved in activities that give you a sense of fulfillment and purpose as key factors to embracing the rest of your life.
In “Healthy Aging,” Weil cited research that found that the effects of aging was 30% genetics, and 70% life choices.
In “Younger Next Year,” Dr. Henry Lodge said that 70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle-related, and if we had the will to do it, we could eliminate more than half of all disease in men and women over the age of 50. Dr. Lodge went on to say normal aging isn’t normal—“You may well live into your nineties, whether you like it or not, but how you live those years, on the other hand is largely under your control. Which is a good reason to make the Last Third of your life terrific—and not a dreary panoply of obesity, sore joints, and apathy. “Normal Aging” is intolerable and avoidable. You can skip most of it and grow old not just gracefully but with real joy.”
I think it’s time to break out the sneakers and start my next adventure. Thank you ladies from the booth behind me; whoever you are. Although I didn’t mean to listen, your honest conversation made me challenge my own thoughts about aging, and wake up to the wonderful possibilities of the next half of my life. I wish the same for you!
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.