As a woman in my 30s, I can’t tell you how often I hear people my same age use the expression “I’m too old.” I have one friend in particular that is “too old” to go to a concert, “too old” to see a movie after 9 p.m., and “too old” to wear certain outfits. On several occasions, I’ve heard an interior design acquaintance of mine, who is 42, proclaim that he’s “having a senior moment!”
And it doesn’t stop there. Apparently this mentality has even seeped into the millennial generation as well. A common refrain among 20-somethings at birthday parties or while reminiscing about high school or college years is: “We are so old.” Celebs (who, sure, are a little youth-obsessed) lament turning the “old 30” or even 25.
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Sure, many of these phrases are said with a little irony or humor, but the real irony seems to be that these phrases are becoming trendy during an era when humans are now living longer than ever before. One could argue that also means we are all younger than ever before: if you live to 100, the age bracket of 30 to 40 is no longer really “mid-life.” So if a 20-something is already complaining about being “old,” do they plan on being too old for their remaining 70 or even 80-some years? And, I wonder, are young and middle-aged people holding themselves back by proclaiming themselves to be prematurely geriatric?
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According to Galit Nimrod, associate professor at the Department of Communication Studies and a research fellow at the Center for Multidisciplinary Research in Aging at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, this trend has less to do with someone’s actual age and more to do with what she calls the life-span perspective. “The feeling that ‘I’m too old for that’ usually has nothing to do with a person’s physical condition, but with their life stage and their perceptions of what is expected of them at that stage,” she explains.
Fortunately for those as annoyed by this common lament as I am, it’s a mindset (and an excuse) that experts on aging believe is unfounded. In recent years, various cultural and technological changes have begun to shake things up. Many people are still dating well beyond their 40s or returning to the singles’ scene at an older age. “Consequently, people’s lives are much more diverse, and we see fewer and fewer individuals doing what they are ‘supposed’ to do at their age,’” says Nimrod, who adds that age and life-stage factors are becoming weaker constraints to participation in various activities. “We now see people in their forties in playgrounds and individuals aged 60+ traveling in the Himalayas,” she explains.
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But even though some may get perverse pleasure out of running around announcing that they are “too old,” this concept of early aging, luckily, doesn’t seem to be stopping many of us from taking risks and reinventing ourselves later in life. In fact, I spoke with several women who are living proof that even if you haven’t made it by your 20s, you still have plenty of time.
At 50, Lynn Tejada took a small detour from her 22-year-old PR business and applied for a seasonal sales position at her favorite clothing store at her local mall. “I thought, ‘Why not?’” she explains. “That four-month experience taught me many things, and I would recommend experiencing totally different perspectives no matter what age,” she explains.
To 46-year-old Eaddy Sutton, who has taken up many hobbies in recent years, age is really just a number. “The secret [no one talks about] is that most people continue to follow new passions throughout all of life — we are just a youth-obsessed culture and fail to notice how long and interesting life really is.”
When she was 30, Liane Yvkoff, now 39, left a high-paying tech career to follow her passion of becoming a writer. “I didn’t go to journalism school, had no contacts, and little experience,” she explains. “It’s tough competing with better connected writers who are younger, but I am still serious about making a career out of it.”
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At 48, Bernadette Murphy learned to ride a motorcycle, did a cross-country bike trek, moved for three months to French Polynesia, learned to SCUBA, and took on rock and ice climbing. “I’m living more fully today than I was in my 20s and 30s because I’ve learned to take on risk and I’m less scared all the time,” she explains. “I’ve had enough experience to know that I can handle what comes —and that’s the real benefit of age.”
“I started weaving two years ago in a class full of other women weavers,” says 59-year-old novelist Molly Moynahan. “It’s been one of the best things to learn a new skill and take the focus off writing and struggling to publish.”
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Eight years ago, Naomi Eisenberger, who describes herself as “a very young 70,” founded the Good People Fund, a nonprofit “micro” philanthropy that helps others do good in their own communities. To date, she has raised and granted more than $7 million dollars for the organization.
Claire Handscombe took up ballet in her mid-30s, Jill Morley, 50, started boxing at 40 and won the National Golden Gloves in the Master’s Division, Joan Anderman became a punk rock singer in her 50s, and B. Lynn Goodwin waited until she turned 62 to marry for the first time!
As more and more individuals take on new hobbies, careers, and interests later on in life, one can only hope that the excuse — or cop out — of being too old to participate in a particular activity will fade. “I believe that with time, we will witness more such phenomena and even greater acceptance of behaviors that are age and life-stage indifferent,” explains Nimrod.
So if a 70-year-old is affecting the lives of thousands through her nonprofit startup and a woman in her late 40s can hop on a hog and go on a cross-country trek, why are you saying you’re too old to sit through a Friday night concert?