No matter how much one truly believes that age is just a number, it’s hard not to be influenced by mass media and the rest of fucking humanity. Sometimes it seems if everyone is looking for every opportunity to use your age against you. Seemingly every impulse is to make any topic about how your age.
Despite that, I’ve always tried to live based on the philosophy of “playing my own game”. When it comes to the application of that philosophy to aging, I try to deflect all the trappings and expectations of growing old that our society throws at us and setting my own course. After all, you can’t lose a game you’re not playing.
Our society tells us that certain behaviors are reserved for certain ages. At a certain age, we shouldn’t be doing these things. And there’s a lot of these rigid social constructs that are thrown at us everyday. It’s not easy to mindfully deflect all of them, so some seep in when I am not fully paying attention and I sometimes find myself back on their game board.
What’s worse is that as I quickly approach 40, these outside expectations come harder, faster and much more often: If I don’t want to go to the club that starts at 1 AM and stay up until 4 on a Saturday, I am an old man. If I get an injury, it’s because my aging body is breaking down. If I don’t know a song from the top 40, I’m reminded it’s because I’m old and only like listening to the music of the 90s.
Nevermind that even in my 20’s, I really didn’t like staying out that late (or that I’ve learned that I’m not much for bar culture). Forget that I play basketball 2-3 times a week for the last 25 years, haven’t had a major injury (knock on wood) and probably in better shape than those a decade youunger. Don’t consider that though I enjoy pop music, I want music that offers me more. Though I do like a 90’s jam, that isn’t exclusive to those in my age bracket (20 year olds seem to love them just as much) I generally look for new music outside of the radio waves not because I am some grump.
I’m not saying that if one can successfully repel all expectations that come with being in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc., that they can be forever young in all aspects, but I will say that aging can be manipulated more than we think it can.
Recently, the New York Times published a article that referenced the work of Ellen Langer. Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, has spent her life linking age and mindset. For the most part, her studies all look at how the body responds to how it thinks of itself — meaning if you think you’re old, then the body follows. And if you place yourself in a space that feels young, you can empower the body and mind to behave/act as if you’re 15 years younger. Check out the following passage (then read the entire article – it’s well worth it):
…more than 4,000 subjects over two decades and found that men who were bald when they joined the study were more likely to develop prostate cancer than men who kept their hair. The researchers couldn’t be sure what explained the link, though they suspected that androgens (male hormones including testosterone) could be affecting both scalp and prostate. Langer had another theory: “Baldness is a cue for old age,” she says. “Therefore, men who go bald early in life may perceive themselves as older and may consequently be expected to age more quickly.” And those expectations may actually lead them to experience the effects of aging.
I made a pact with myself a long time ago (one that I renew with vigor every year) that i wouldn’t allow the expectations and traditional restrictions that come with age impact what I want to do, what I wear (for the most part), how I behave, and the milestones I should be reaching or not.
This article, whether you believe in the science or not, has pushed me to think for myself even more. I’m emboldened to continue living young, thinking young, and leaving all the “old” comments at the doorstep.