By English Drews
The first time I realized I had an age stereotype was when I was in my 20s. I was traveling with a coworker, we had begun to build a friendship, and the work trip was providing us an opportunity to get to know each other better. We shared similar likes and dislikes. We loved animals, a good laugh, a tall glass of wine, and were two of only a handful of women in a male-dominated industry. We worked well together. Then I asked her how old she was. When she replied, I couldn’t believe it and stupidly said, “You’re THAT old, you’re 30?? NO WAY.”
Today, we laugh at that story, but I am embarrassed by my misstep. Thank goodness she overlooked my ignorance on age. Thank goodness that was a fleeting moment in my belief system. And thank goodness, 30 years later, we are still dear friends.
Yes, I have learned my lesson. And as karma would have it, I have experienced similar – although not as blatant – typecasts. Dismissive looks, a lack of genuine interest, and even, dare I say, age discrimination as a 50-something.
But I know the age stereotypes people hold will slowly fade with time, if they too are blessed and gifted with years.
And having a secret helps. It has taken years to get here, this secret society of age. Where wisdom, emotional security, acceptance (of myself as much as others), community, and living your best life all come together. There is no short cut and you never fully arrive. You can’t jump into this secret society without years of living. And I am finally beginning to see the culmination of those years.
My 20s were about “anything is possible,” forging a new, undefined path for myself. Optimism and naivete prevailed. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
My 30s were a period of “rediscovery,” trying new things, having greater confidence and a willingness to take more risks while building stability in my life. Most importantly, I found my forever love.
My 40s were mostly defined as “all I did was work” phase. Accomplishments, but sacrificing balance to get there. Hard work, meeting obligations, and feeling the weight of all that was expected of me. Success but with a price.
My 50s have been all about taking the best of each decade and living it. Limitless possibilities, taking new risks, using my talents, and forging new paths. Happiness instead of drive, purpose instead of pleasing.
I think of all my adult life experiences – these last 30 years – and I can’t quite contain my excitement of what will happen next. It will not be as physical – I don’t plan to run any more marathons or to bike 150 miles in two days. But it will be as adventurous. It will be more creative and more spiritual. It will be less corporate and more community-minded. There will be less searching and more presence.
And while my body is a frequent reminder that we are on the back half of our journey, (thank you, age spots, laugh lines and gravity), my mind doesn’t quite know we are aging yet. It is still curious, engaged, hopeful, optimistic and playful. Thankfully, graceful aging is a state of mind, more about attitude than anything.
And as for the years beyond my 50s, if I am so blessed? I’ll take my queue from my favorite grand dame, Helen Mirren:
“Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. Your 60s are fab. And 70 is f*@king awesome!”
Age truly is just a number… and I plan to keep mine unlisted.
English is a Charleston native who took a break from her sales and marketing career to renovate the historical family home her great grandparents built in 1915. That adventure led to the creation of her blog, RenovatingCharleston.com, and her pursuit of finding and sharing the stories of our ancestors. Her days are filled with gardening, poring over historical documents and finding ways to tell and preserve the stories of our past.