Notice anything new? Beginning today, my new photo, e-mail address and column name will appear on this page every Monday. What's behind it isn't...
Notice anything new? Beginning today, my new photo, e-mail address and column name will appear on this page every Monday. What’s behind it isn’t a new attitude on my part, but yours.
I’ve sensed a bit of a sea change in my e-mail and workshop audiences recently. More of you have stopped “growing older” (old column name). It’s not that you’re not aging; after all, what’s the alternative? But rather than passively watching the years roll by, some of you are taking more control of your lives as you age, doing the things you need to do to plan for whatever might happen. I call it “aging deliberately” — my column’s new name. I’ve been preaching this mantra for years. Until now, few have paid attention. Get out the champagne: More of you “get it.” We have to celebrate.
Most of us age accidentally, without planning or forethought. I hope my column helps people of all ages learn how to age on purpose. It’s important work because if you live to age 65, you’re likely to live well into your 80s. The fastest-growing segment of the American population is people 85 and older, and boomers can figure on living into their 90s and 100s.
Embracing our aging rather than denying it flies in the face of our society’s historical fear of all things old, especially human. Years ago, when the “over the hill” greeting-card line began poking fun at people turning 50, it became news. Celebrating people reaching the half-century mark with laughter, rather than saccharine inanities, had been unheard of until then.
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Today, 60 is the new 40. Before we know it, it’ll be 80.
More changes are coming. One is our language. It’s time to admit that people actually get, hmmm, old. Long embarrassed to use the “o” word, we came up with euphemisms. My least favorite is “senior.” I think it’s patronizing and demeaning. Do we call younger people “junior”?
I don’t care what older people call themselves — many like “senior.” But when I hear younger people use the term, it’s an us-vs.-them word — you’re old, and I’m not (and never expect to be). Aging is relative; there’s always someone younger and older than you. So I prefer “older” as in older people or adults. Some like “elders.”
But the best reason for businesses to stop using the term “senior” is that the boomers won’t buy it. Forward-thinking “senior centers” are already changing their names to “community centers.” Immediately, the image of what goes on inside improves, doesn’t it?
Another surprise is the people who are climbing aboard this train. I recently spoke to a group of 100 businesswomen, expecting the normal array of people 50 and older. I was dumbfounded to see that half the audience was under 50 — and eager to listen. More men now attend my workshops and write me than in the previous two decades.
A third thing that needs to change: We need to take responsibility for our aging (including how we pay for our needs) and become more discerning about how we make choices.
One of the worst things that ever happened to the aging field was the word “free.” Government and nonprofits perpetuated the myth that older people somehow deserve free or low-cost services.
The generation that came through the Depression pounced on “free” like a cat on a mouse and, though they became the wealthiest older generation in history (there are now more impoverished children than older people), the myth is alive and well, despite a spiking national deficit that will soon eviscerate all public services — while taxpayers refuse to pay more.
As a result, many public services for older people are poor quality. With laws prohibiting them to charge, they limp along, regardless of the ability of their customers to pay. At the same time, some entrepreneurs operate on the theory that there’s “gold in old” and offer inferior goods through various subterfuges, mainly “free.”
Nothing guarantees us smooth sailing as we grow older, no matter how much we plan ahead. But with more than a quarter-century tacked onto our lives that was denied previous generations, it makes sense to make the most of the time we have. It’s time to age deliberately, not accidentally.
Most of us age accidentally, without planning or forethought. Aging Deliberately tells us how to age on purpose, with more control. You can reach Liz Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 11601, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. You can see all of her columns at www.seattletimes.com.