Don’t Make Age a Cage

~ Grow bold as you grow old

 If you regard old age as an ever-shrinking cage, let me help you change your thinking.

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The time in life when you are regarded as old, is actually the time in life in which to celebrate freedom:

  • the freedom derived from a rapidly fading self-censorship
  • the freedom derived from being the boss of your time

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With the hindsight accrued from many years of life, we gain X-ray vision in evidencing the transparency of society-engineered motivations. For example, to achieve the stamp of social approval, certain boxes need to be ticked – career position, where you live, what you drive, your appearance and fashion sense. Advertising flaunts the streamlined youth in styles, cars and grooming habits geared towards defining a lifestyle that represents success. It’s an effective form of brainwashing which takes root during the early teens. And even if intellectually the substance of such a definition is questioned, the emotional dictate is imprinted. We are enslaved by trends and the need for external approval.

Unless you are an authentic eccentric (Edinburgh based psychologist Dr. David Weeks found that eccentrics live longer and visit the doctor less and suggests that because non-conformists do not repress their inner nature in a constant struggle to conform, they are happier and healthier,) it takes awareness, self-discovery, self-belief and courage to break out of society’s pressurised snare….or you can wait until you are old when you are less likely to care about hanging importance on external hooks. This means that the “what will others think?” dictum no longer controls your choices. It’s a zone that lends itself to liberating the real you.

As old age is the last chapter in this life, all kinds of thoughts such as:

  • Life really is short so let’s pack in the fun
  • With no dependents I’m ok with risks
  • I can be selfish with my time…….

run sub-title attitudes such as:

  • ‘what the heck’
  • or ‘so what’
  • or I have nothing to lose…

while reaching for the purple hat or bow tie to decorate decision-making. And this in turn encourages giving different ideas and options a bash.When I Am An Old Woman

Freedom also emerges once you have left the nine to five routine of your job. Ending old routines is tantamount to clearing out the old to make room for the new. You could dedicate different hours to new pursuits; make your ‘weekend’ in the middle of the week; turn a hobby into a morning’s business and allocate the afternoons to sport, recreation or studying something new. Many countries around the world offer university or college courses for older adults to encourage lifelong learning. There’s also the University of the Third Age (U3A) – an international organisation with local contacts in most cities.

According to the World Health Organization, active aging is defined as “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.”

The opportunities for expansion, participation, contribution and ultimately fulfilment unfurl like the fronds of a fern,

with each frond bearing many leaflets and each leaflet holding hundreds of spores. Each spore is the beginning of another fern plant. This process represents an analogy for your life which does not end when you retire. ‘Fronds’ are always unfurling and if you explore the ‘leaflets’, you will find the ‘spores’ or is that spoors to a new life, identity or adventure?

Networking is a way to cultivate and sustain the ‘unfurling of fronds’ and prevent sliding into the reclusive cage of a comfort zone. List your interests and Google them – you are bound to discover a variety of posts elaborating on your interests and offering membership of like-minded groups, online and/or locally in your area. If a group does not exist in your area, take the opportunity to start one yourself.

There is an online social networking portal called Meetup (www.meetup.com) that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. The masthead of the main website features the question, ‘What do you love?’ superimposed over changing images portraying a vast variety of activities, – it is highly unlikely that you will not find your answer to the question listed on the home page. However, should that happen, you can create a new one. Membership is not age-specific unless the reason for the formation of a particular group suggests otherwise. Integrating ages is mentally healthy for both young and old.

Voluntary work offers another way to integrate yourself into the meaningful fabric of life. Besides creating new networks it tends to heighten your realisation of how much you have to appreciate as well as presenting a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. And it is apparently more beneficial to your overall wellbeing than paid work. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is by losing yourself in the service of others.”

Voluntary work may also lead to employment opportunities if that’s what you are after. In fact all networks hold potential leads to work – ‘explore the leaflets and you will find the spores.’  Never be dismissive of places, people or events as possible opportunities where you will find assistance for your quest, be that a richer social life, a work pursuit or hobby.

Networks are about connection and connection is the opposite of isolation, a form of which is used as severe punishment in prisons. People are social beings and as such community support and a strong sense of belonging provide an excellent antidote to depression. group-walks-elderly-peopleStudies have found that longevity and good health flourish in societies with strong community structures.

Power lies in the collective mind, in the collective consciousness.

Be bold, show up and play your part in the game called life.

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Where To From now?

Does age dominate who you really are?

As the years slip by, your skin may become lined, your hair grey, your diet wiser, and your joints a little less co-operative; but do these changes transform you into someone else? Or is there a voice inside you saying, “I’m still here; I’m still me!”

Of course it is still you, a you who has moved through many cycles of change from toddler to teen to adult to middle-aged to ……………,

Why is it difficult to find a name or description for this last phase of life that does not sound harsh or patronising or even depressing?

Or is it?

Why do we choke over saying the word ‘old’?

When our biographical odometer reflects many yearly milestones, it’s telling us that we have a vast array of experiences under our belt. These are assets which we can draw upon to assist us in navigating our future directions.

There’s a certain experience that we can only gain by spending many years on this planet. It’s an achievement that is signposted by a chunky numerical figure, and yet, admirable as that figure may be, it still does not represent our whole identity.

Our perceivable identities are multi-faceted with each facet seeded in a different experience. It’s not just our work experience that counts as meaningful – all life experiences accumulatively contribute towards an expanded hindsight potential and reservoir of wisdom

The markets’ scream of shame at the signs of age is intended to buckle our self-esteem and boost our gullibility at the expense of our wallets. But if our appreciation of beauty can extend from the lush green valleys of the tropics to the barren undulations of the desert, why can we not appreciate the finely chiselled furrows that represent a wealth of experience?

The milestones, the age number and the physical changes are part of our individuation package but they do not represent the essence of who we are. That essence or blueprint that we are born with, we carry through to our last heart beat. It’s an essence that permeates our behaviour and when heeded unleashes unique potential. The only time that we are unable to express our true essence is when we lose the faculties necessary for such expression.

The indelibility of our essence is an important point to remember when we hit the 60s-and-beyond milestone when most full-time employment occupations advance into retirement. Sadly though, I have witnessed many friends and clients in this phase of life who clearly have forgotten this and instead have that “WTF now?” look on their faces. In fact they seem to exude the question from every pore of their being, such is their despair and sense of being lost.

Retiring from a job does not mean retiring from life. The “I’m still me!” voice remains within you – the real you, who can grab the new opportunity to express and recreate yourself in other ways. Retirement is the time to create a new identity, or, if you haven’t already done so, allow the real you to blossom.

But all this recreating has to begin with our attitude. If our attitudinal filter is clouded by derision for the golden era of life, then that’s where the recreating has to begin. That’s where the change begins – derision, dread and anxiety change into appreciation, curiosity and excitement. Any exploration of opportunities cannot be optimally successful if our viewfinder aperture is constricted by fear.

A narrow aperture exposes fewer possibilities and therefore a limited scope of choices. And as everything we do is preceded by choice, it’s important for us to remove the shutters of fear from our vision. Stepping out of a comfort zone can be scary but it’s an anxiety that lessens with every day that passes outside the comfort zone, gradually becoming replaced by the joy we sense from honouring our true potential and the courage that that took. The alternative is long-term dissatisfaction, emptiness and despair – leading to a degenerating quality of life and health.

According to neuroscientist Prof. Faull, the best way to keep our brains in good shape is to find something we enjoy doing, and do it every single day for as long as possible.

Let me help you rediscover how to enjoy this phase of life whether that means redesigning a new livelihood or fulfilling those long awaited dreams.

There is nothing to be lost by venturing into the realm of possibilities but there is much to be lost by denying the existence of endless possibilities.

Look out for posts to come that further explore this interesting time of life.