The Enemy Is Us

Updated: Mar 7

Timeless love. Pastel on paper. Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. March 2020.

Most of us would prefer NOT to thinking about aging at all. We tend to associate aging with the loss of our looks, our strength, our independence. It’s depressing to see older people who are stooped, or who appear frail or lonely. We pity them and secretly hope that we won’t “end up like that”.  We say it like we are somehow stuck passively on a train that is going some place unknown and scary - somewhere we don’t want to go. A place described with words like: faded, stale, decrepit, useless, senile, helpless, withered, worthless and obsolete.

Fate worse than death

What’s worse is that our daily media feed is filled with marketing messages that reinforce our fears of aging. Our modern culture collectively buys into the fantasy that eternal youth is desirable, and that signs of aging should be hidden. That aging is a problem that must be denied or fixed, or both. You may know seniors who refuse to wear hearing aids or to use a cane, because they don’t want to “look old”. When marketing messages are internalized, billions are spent on anti-aging products and procedures out of fear, embarrassment, and self-loathing. 

We become our own enemy. After all, aging is an inevitable law of nature, like gravity. We are all aging every year, every day, every hour.

Aging narratives

But what if the youth-oriented messages were wrong? What if we saw the marketing messages for what they are? They are simply advertisements intended to get you to buy. Just like ads for tobacco, alcohol, food. They are meant to sell you on the fun and glamor of youth, and so of course aging must be ugly, hateful. 

Role models represent what is possible when we choose a different path for ourselves.

When we begin to see that such binary thinking doesn’t serve us, we can begin to appreciate multiple alternate narratives to aging. Seniors whom we admire for their wisdom and contributions, whose legacies will endure like Anna Wintour, Toni Morrison, Jane Fonda. Others who gain our respect for finding their passion later in life and pursuing their dreams like Grandma Moses who started painting at age 78, or Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins who started competing in the Senior Games at age 80 and set world records in the 100 yard dash at the age of 104. These role models represent what is possible when we choose a different path for ourselves.

Road less traveled

You actually probably do know elderly family members or friends who are active and independent, who continue to create value by helping others and contributing to society. Chances are that they didn’t get to be that way by accident. They most likely were intentional and deliberate in choosing how they wanted to age. They had to decide what they wanted to do, how they wanted to be, and what mattered most to them. And they did so with the wisdom and experience gained in the first half of their lives.

There is no stopping the time train taking us into the future, but we can decide proactively to set the direction. You get to decide if you are going to a place best described by the words: vibrant, seasoned, wise, vigorous, patient, generous, dignified, mature, thoughtful, resilient, understanding, and experienced.

On your terms

In order to set this new course, you will need to befriend your future old self. Rather than rejecting the wrinkles and gray hairs, can you embrace the laughter that created those creases and the richness of relationships built as those gray hairs appeared? Your body deserves gratitude and compassion for all that you have been able to do in your life so far. 

By tapping into your heart’s desire, you can create a vision for the next few decades that will guide you like a beacon, shining the path forward one step at a time. The truth is that we do of course want to live longer, enjoying our lives to the fullest and sharing it with those we love. And we can only do so on our own terms by being open to the possibility of becoming role models for our next generations, with commitment, planning, and a little luck.


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