Learning Points: Embrace ageing for a longer and fuller life

We all dread it, the scarecrow staring back at us in the mirror. The circles, the hollow cheeks, the thinning hair and the down turned mouth. The terrible fish that stalks us all.

Well, that’s if you look at ageing from a very negative viewpoint.

And that’s exactly how the trillion-dollar industry built around it wants you to think. For an ageing person and their money is easily parted. It’s like that old proverb of the mad king keeping out the tide with a spoon.

All endeavours to defeat it are ultimately an exercise in futility. Collagen cannot be reproduced, and you cannot look like you are 20 when you are 70. So, striving for either of those things will inevitably leave you exhausted, frustrated and a little less well off.

But how would you feel if you shifted those negative thoughts and began to see ageing as gaining rather than losing? We will all hopefully age. And we will all change over the course of our lives. And we will lose some of what we really liked about our physical appearance but we will also gain an incredible amount.

How we deal with the maturation process will dictate whether or not we do it gracefully and whether, in our preoccupation with it, we miss out on some of what is happening in the moment. Which is the most devastating thing we can allow ageing to take from us.

Ageing gracefully, for me, is not so much about wearing the appropriate clothes or having your hair at the correct length for your age, whatever that is.

But it’s more about what you allow ageing to mean for you. Ageing gracefully is a state of mind. It’s a place where you embrace where you are at, a celebration of your life. You made it this far.

Are you now going to waste the years ahead by lamenting the years behind? Or are you going to throw your arms around yourself and nail your colours to the mast — I may be older but there is so much more I want to do. And so much more I have to offer.

An aged man is not a paltry thing — he is far more than that. I wonder when someone lies about their age, are they denying themselves from truly enjoying where they are in their lives at that particular time.

I often have conversations with clients about their anxiety about the future as they move towards later life.This can be quite a worrying time — what will the future hold?

But it can also be an exciting time, a time of discovery and adventure. I also have conversations with older clients around their feelings of not having accomplished what it is they wanted to do in their life before they set out into adulthood.

Having a family and the responsibility that comes with all of that or the work that we do can often impact on the dreams we had as young adults. But just because we are slightly older and have responsibilities doesn’t mean we can’t still dream.

John Lennon said: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’ — how right he was. But what if, old age was the time we did all the things we planned before life got in the way. I often talk to clients about something I call, ‘provocative responsibility’.

What I mean by this is that you can be responsible and still challenge yourself, no matter what age you are. In these conversations clients generally bring up how they feel society expects them to act a certain way because they are older. And when I introduce the idea of ‘provocative responsibility’ I see their eyes light up — like I have given them permission to be young again.

We sometimes construct an imagined discourse to give ourselves permission not to truly live our lives.

It’s a nice trick we play on ourselves but it is ultimately devastating for our future psyche. Because we look back with a sigh and think, I should have disturbed the universe but in short I was afraid.

We have to let go of our perceived notions of what people will say if we do something different and just do it. I had a client recently tell me that after years of lamenting the end of her marriage she was ready and longing to meet a new partner.

She also explained how she was worried what her 44-year-old son, who had moved back in with her, would think if she started a new relationship. I felt there was something significant in this conversation that I have experienced many times before in the therapeutic setting.

We often give away our agency because we fear we might upset people close to us by living the life we want to live.

And therefore make ourselves miserable in the process.

You will never be as young as you are today. Embrace your age. Growing old does not have to be something we dread.

Instead, we can be like Lear and rage against it. We can tap into that inner child and challenge ourselves and live the life we always wanted. We cannot be forever young, but as we age we can certainly, eat a peach.

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