That’s what I said to the audience an hour into my presentation, The New New Rules of Retirement. They knew immediately this was make-believe because I don’t look 73.
At least I don’t think I look 73. Anyway I am not 73…yet.
“If I am 73, am I old?”
The crowd is reluctant to answer. They murmur. Finally a brave soul shouts, “Yes, you are old.”
The audience grumbles at his truth. The age label isn’t playing well. Frankly, some look sorry for me when they are not looking at the floor.
The room turns quiet. Finally and firmly, one late-fifties executive states, “Naw, she’s not old.”
“Then, what am I? Am I middle aged?” I asked.
An audience member raises her hand. She needs clarification.
“Are you asking if you are middle aged at 73?”
Clearly, I am messing with them but for a very good reason.
In your late 50s, 60s and 70s, life requires a new identity – one that combines elements of the past with today’s realities. Self-concepts are perplexing enough without bamboozling age labels to confuse us.
And we are confused. What is old? What is middle aged? Am I old? And what about you there approaching the backside of 50? How long before you’re old?
The developmental stages we once relied on to gauge our passages through life are no longer reliable.
–Adolescence – Adulthood – Old
This defunct model is much too contained for life as we know it and utterly useless in forming a new identity.
Still somewhere in your life is the middle and within the middle, a mid-point. There is beauty in symmetry but when the midpoint is passed, the proportion of your time on earth lessens.
Life forever more is asymmetrical.
We’re so busy we hardly notice.
In today’s world those between the ages of 40-60 are typically considered to be middle-aged. But there’s at least a 10-year range on either end, so that it’s not uncommon to consider middle age to begin at 30 and end at 75.
One-third of Americans in their 70s think of themselves as middle-aged (National Council on Aging, 2000).
Typically we feel ten years younger than we are. Age is a factor in our identity (we’re lying if we say it’s not.) If we feel fifty but we’re really sixty, can we use the this-is-how-old-I-feel age instead of the chronological age?
Some of us might like that.
New life stages are being created because of longevity.
Late Adulthood (80+)
Very Old Age
Does it matter when midlife begins and ends? Maybe not.
But knowing you’re passing through the midpoint is a chance to choose how to view the road ahead. Now that matters.
On my bike I know exactly the midpoint of the ride – the place where I take a swig of Gatorade, turn the bike around and head home.
But a midpoint in life is no roundabout for retracing a path we’ve traveled.
We can feel proud about the life we’ve lived; we can feel unsettled that life hasn’t been as good or great as we anticipated.
What we all have in common in midlife is an end.
Why does it matter to know we’ve passed the middle of life?
Because in life’s middle a future remains. Slightly lopsided with less time, we may want to flee into busyness.
Actually you should just do this:
Admire the first half of life. Behold the second.
Dividing our life in half may be a more simplistic approach than deciding what to call our particular life stage. I recommend it.
In the first half – from youth to midlife – things typically are pretty clear; after that– the path extends forward and is less obvious.
In fact the next pathway – the one after midlife – may be the murkiest ever. It’s easy to begin to feel completely lost. Some can see no way forward; still others take a path too quickly then find life after the middle disappointing or less than fulfilling.
I’ve interviewed individuals who pass the midpoint and whip their lives into relevance and engagement through work, relationships, and travel. The life they create is one they will cultivate well into old age or old,old, old age.
I am crazy in love with their spirits.
Mid-life is long. It may be the most central period in life.
The proportion of time ahead in your living after midlife is unknown but this uncertainty is not new. Life has always been hazardous and precarious.
If you feel in the middle of life or even way past the middle, pause and gain perspective before attempting to figure anything out. Absorb the time landscape of your life.
At some point you will need to collect your self – all of your experiences, talents, aspirations, dreams – to begin to create life and define yourself in a new way.
But for now do what you sometimes do in the middle of a curve on a gorgeous mountain parkway when you see the sign, “Scenic Overlook.” Pull over and take the moment in stride.
If I am 73 am I old or middle aged?
What life stage are you in? When did you leave midlife behind?
It matters not. Nothing matters except understanding you are not done.
Do me a favor. Take a few more minutes and foster my need as a teacher to leave you stirred, enchanted and motivated.
Read Foreseeing, a poem by Sharon Bryan and turn the volume up to listen to a song that amazingly fits heading toward the second half of life.
I promise you will feel outrageous in your love of the journey after the midpoint.
by Sharon Bryan from Flying Blind
Middle age refers more
to landscape than to time:
it’s as if you’d reached
the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,
so you know without a doubt
that it has an end—
not that it will have,
but that it does have,
if only in outline—
so for the first time
you can see your life whole,
beginning and end not far
from where you stand,
the horizon in the distance—
the view makes you weep,
but it also has the beauty
of symmetry, like the earth
seen from space: you can’t help
but admire it from afar,
especially now, while it’s simple
to re-enter whenever you choose,
lying down in your life,
waking up to it
just as you always have—
except that the details resonate
by virtue of being contained,
as your own words
coming back to you
define the landscape,
remind you that it won’t go on
like this forever.
Lacking a video allows you to give full attention to the audio and lyrics by Jake Reese, a singer-songwriter from The Netherlands.
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All Photos by B. Pagano, 2016, San Miguel de Allende