1. More body parts fail when you are 65, but it upsets you less.
Right around age 45, I started to need reading glasses. I joked about how the real problem wasn’t my failing vision but that my arms no longer stretched far enough to see the printed type. But deep inside, I saw my diminishing vision as the beginning of the end, the starting gate of a long slide into decrepitude. I was bummed.
Today, I have separate glasses for reading, computer work, and driving at night. I stash spare pairs in every purse, on every countertop, in every desk drawer and in both my car and my husband’s. I buy most of them in the drugstore and don’t care a whit about what they look like. Without handy access to a pair of glasses at any given moment, I am worthless vision-wise.
By the time I hit 65, not being able to see as clearly as I once did was the least of my problems. I also now have trouble hearing, my feet hurt from years of stupidly wearing high heels, my metabolism has slowed to a turtle crawl and I have regular conversations with the doctor about things like adult onset diabetes, hypertension and my cholesterol numbers.
The big difference is, I get it now. Body parts wear out. You do your best to keep the engine running, but for the most part, you accept that life is a race that we eventually all will lose — and about the best thing you can do is not waste a precious second of it focusing on the little aches and pains.
2. By 65, you know that looking older is not the same as looking bad.
Every 10 years or so when I clean out the garage, I rediscover a photo of me taken in my early 40s. The permed big-hair look I sported makes me laugh. I don’t so much look younger as I do sillier.
We are products of our era. We can look good at any age. And probably nobody should ever get perms. Ever.
3. By 65, you no longer define yourself by just your job.
Charlotte is a mom. Marsha is a public defender. Laura rides her bike 100 miles in a stretch. And Jack loves being a grandpa, although he worries he wasn’t always much of a dad. What do they all have in common? They are all 65 or older.
When I was in my 20s, a friend asked me how I would describe myself to a stranger. Easy-peasy: I was a journalist. I lived at the office, loved what I was doing and felt like I was riding a speeding rocket to bigger stories and better career opportunities. I was a writer, an interviewer, a prize-winner, a person who other reporters came to for advice. I was sitting on top of the world and happy as a clam, except for when those intrusive thoughts flooded my brain: What about, you know, the other stuff?
Today, I am a wife and mother, a best friend, a rescue dog advocate, a traveler, a book-reader, a storyteller, a problem-solver, a gourmet cook and good-food-devourer, a nature admirer, and a wilderness hiker. And yes, I am still a good journalist. But I am more than just my job. Age teaches you that that’s the way it should be. It’s great to love what you do and be able to earn a living doing it. But work is never everything.
4. As you age, how others see you matters less and less. How you see yourself matters more and more.
What advice do we most frequently hear from those who we say are “aging gracefully?” In a nutshell, it’s this: They no longer care what others think of their choices.
I am pleased to put myself in this group. I wear my jeans and sneakers to the office, no longer dressing to impress. I have been known to decline an evening out just because I prefer to be in bed by 9 p.m. I run errands without makeup and don’t care who I bump into. I drive a 10-year-old car that hasn’t seen a car wash in years. None of those things were remotely possible for me even 15 years ago.
Why do we even care what strangers think? How can our choices of things like whether to color our hair or wear two-piece swimsuits possibly impact them? I am reminded of an exchange a few years ago on CruiseCritic.com that began with the statement that people who don’t want to dress up and participate in the formal dinners (that are cruising’s trademark) should simply stay home.
“How does my desire to wear my jeans to dinner ruin your vacation?” asked one commenter, who I think might have been me.
The other curious thing that happens at 65 is you start to think about your legacy. What changed in the world because of you?
5. Getting older means that you forget things at the same rate you always did, but now you worry more about it.
A breast cancer survivor I know says that she can never just get a headache. “I immediately think it’s brain cancer,” she says. A back ache must mean a tumor on her spine and all sunspots are melanomas until the doctor says otherwise. It’s just how it is, she says. Your body recovers first and then, if you are lucky, your worry-center will eventually shut down.
The same thing happens with forgetfulness. At 65, you forget about as much as you always did but your worry-center is still active. What does it mean that you locked the keys in the car, or checked the mailbox forgetting no mail is delivered on New Year’s Day? Truly, it likely means nothing. But a 65-year-old man who absentmindedly leaves the stove on after removing the pancakes may have just bought himself a one-way ticket to the neurologist’s.
The fear of dementia when you are older is a real thing. You look for signs of it behind every pantry door that you open, especially when you forget why you opened it.
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