Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m turning 30, which sometimes feels like just another year, and sometimes feels like a very big deal. It’s one of those right of passage ages in our culture: the 20’s are over, time to stop fooling around and get serious about life.
Serious about life. Haha, that’s a good one. I realize this post might not be real applicable for a lot of you that are already of an age that you’ve figured out what I’m figuring out this year, but darn it I’m going to write about it anyway. For my own sake as much as anyone else’s.
For the past couple months, I have on and off been really concerned about turning 30. That this was the start of getting old, that my prime was past, that it was all downhill from here. And then I’d get frustrated with myself.
First of all, because turning a year older every year is something we have absolutely no control over. We can’t stop the clock, we can’t turn back time, so there’s absolutely no reason to worry about it – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”, and all that.
Secondly, the only reason the “0” years: 30, 40, 50, etc. have such an importance is because our society has placed an importance on it – it’s an obvious mile marker, not because anything intrinsically unique happens on the day you turn one of those years.
And thirdly, because how “old” or “young” you are and what age constitutes being in “the prime of your life” are really all a matter of perspective. They are subjective opinions, not objective facts like the number of years you’ve been alive. To people my parent’s age, I am young. In the eyes of a child, I am old. There is no correct answer, no set age at which you turn “old”, or actually, maybe there is.
Maybe you turn old when you decide you’re old. Going off an idea that I’ve put forth on this blog before, that we shouldn’t worry so much about what others think about us and it’s what we think of ourselves that should count most, here’s a theory of mine about aging.
A lot of what I have trouble with when it comes to aging is that today is always the oldest I’ve ever been. Every year feels like I’m getting “old” when I compare it to my past experiences of being younger. So every year, I call myself old. To get past this, I could look at the average lifespan for Americans and rationalize that if I live to that average age of 78 and ½, I’m still less than 50% of the way through my life. The problem is that is only a temporary solution. What do I do when I get closer to 40 and statistically suddenly my life is half over? That’s a pretty depressing thought.
I don’t want to go through life counting the years like that. That’s a surefire way to forget to enjoy them for what they are – a gift, not something we’re entitled to. Despite fading beauty, the aches and pains that come with getting older, I think if we learn to see each year as a gift, that we’re better off. Because again, physical aging isn’t a choice, and the alternative is death.
A quick segue though while I’m thinking about it. The second part of that earlier quote is important to think about too: “the courage to change the things I can”. We are going to get older, but if we make the effort to take care of our bodies by eating well and exercising, while that doesn’t guarantee a longer healthier life, it certainly increases the chances.
But back to my previous point. There are much smarter philosophers and theorists than I out there who say that we don’t actually see the world and life as it truly is, no one does. We all see it through the filtered lenses of our own experiences, values, and ideals, and that it looks differently for everyone. That we really do shape our own world, and not just in a “your actions shape the world around you” kind of way. When you think about aging like that, while our physical age is not open for debate, whether you’re “young” or “old” is something you can decide. When I tell myself that I’m getting old and I believe that, I start acting older. I don’t do silly things in public that I would like to do because it’s not appropriate for someone my age.
Have you ever met an older person who is still on the go, full of life and dresses and does what they want and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about it? I’ve met a couple people like that before, and when I get older I want to be like them. They might tell you they’re so-and-so years young, instead of old, because they made the conscious decision to see themselves as young and not let their physical age and the people around them define what age they feel on the inside. And that’s what I’m talking about here. Bodies are wonderful things, and we should take care of and enjoy them. But you are so much more than just the physical housing that you ride around in. I’m making the effort now when I meet new people to try to see beyond their physical appearance and age to what lays beneath, which has always interested me more anyway.
This approach can be made to the topic of beauty too (and yes this is geared more towards women than men, if you’re a guy you can feel free to skip through this part). America’s beauty culture is funded by a vast industry that makes more money the more insecure women feel about their appearance. Maybe that explains why only something like 5% of American women actually have the extremely slender body type that pictured on billboards, in magazines, and on TV as being beautiful. Add to that the fact that most pictures of models and actresses are touched up to make them seem impossibly flawless, and it’s not surprising that many women experience hangups about their looks on occasion (and yes, I am included in that statement).
Genetics play the biggest part in a pers’s physical appearance and there is nothing that can be done to change that. Beauty fades with age, and there’s nothing that can be done about that either. Things like plastic surgery or botox can change a person’s appearance, but they’re ultimately temporary measures and usually make a person feel worse in the long run because when is it ever enough. So again, the best thing to do, and it’s hard sometimes believe me, is to ignore the current standard and decide for yourself what beautiful is. There are two parts to the way I look at beauty: that who a person is on the inside is more important than the outside, and that all bodies, no matter how young or old, tall or short, thin or curvy, are beautiful in their own right because of all the things they allow us to do. It all harkens back to that life is a gift outlook.
And finally, the last part of that old quote: “and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Huh, maybe turning 30 is a coming of age experience after all, because I doubt I would have put so much time into thinking about all of this on a more ordinary birthday. I feel wiser already.
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For the first time in my life, my birthday will be happening in spring instead of winter, thanks Florida! I guess a few days with highs in the 80’s this past week will do that. Enjoy some pictures of things greening up around the OSBS.
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