Updated: Nov 6, 2022
When we speak of Longevity, are we not generally directing our message to the mature adult, the older demographic? In present times we often refer to them as baby boomers; I’ve begun referring to this demographic as the AARP generation. For the most part, at this stage of life we’ve raised our families, are situated in our work life and begin to look towards the horizon for our remaining years.
Many of us become more conscious of our wellbeing at this point in life and adopt lifestyle changes that we are told will have a positive effect on our overall health and wellbeing. Those changes are most notably in the foods we eat, our weight, and exercise regime, so we can continue aging as healthy as possible. We may also take extra measures to engage in activities that will ensure our brain health. However, it is critically important that greater emphasis be placed on adopting a wellness lifestyle from our early years continuing across our life span.
At this stage we may also be looking towards our retirement.
The definition of retirement as it applies to the work force simply means the “act or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” However, definitions from other contexts use the word withdrawal or seclusion. (“the withdrawal of a jury from the courtroom to decide their verdict”; “a secluded or private place.” A Forbes 2017 article though a more appropriate word would be “retirements” which it described as a “functional shift that replaces everything” one implying transition. It seems that any word incorporating “retire” as the root should be avoided. Exiting, transitioning, embarking, graduating, all convey movement to another stage, level, or act of life. That is because the notion of retirement in and of itself becomes a kind of life’s destination point. But the truth is according to the Kauffman Index report for Startup Activity the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. is among those 55 to 64 years,” That’s been the case for the past 15 years, and there have been studies that tell us that people who did not like retirement were three times more likely to be entrepreneurs and small business builders than young people. Therefore, because in using the word retire, we would then be implying retiring from life. This could not be further from the truth as we should refrain from using that word whenever possible. It seems that any word incorporating “retire” as the root should be avoided in favor of exiting, transitioning, embarking, graduating, all convey movement to another stage, level, or act of life. (i.e., as in the third act)
Essentially, the present societal view is that people are valued wherever they are along the age spectrum until they hit the benchmark of retirement age. It’s at that juncture their value changes along with their dignity, respect, rights, and all things they are entitled to up to that point.
I along with others embraced the concept that older adults are our future selves. However, more recently I concluded that that notion is too far in the distance, a future we cannot and often don’t want to imagine.
I ask you to play along with me here. Take a moment and close your eyes. Imagine where you might be in five, ten or fifteen years from now. Do you imagine the place, the surroundings, the people you’d like to be living amongst? Do you see yourself as an older version of yourself in that picture? I know I don’t. This is something we most likely want to avoid at all costs, especially as it may reflect on our declining physical ability, independence, cognitive ability or medical condition.
Society plays a tremendous role in our view of ourselves. Despite depicting older adults in various activities and venues both in print advertising and on-air commercials, somehow there is still the notion that cosmetic fillers and injections are the panacea solution for wrinkles and hair dyes that remedy to camouflage gray hair both of which are to be avoided at all costs. In continuing to emphasize the desire to look and feel young, it reinforces the idolatry of looking and feeling younger and of youth in general.
What if we can empower young people to embrace longevity? It may seem a counterintuitive thought since youth’s main priority is youth. But if we ask a younger adult if they prefer to think about their mortality or an early demise as opposed to a longer life, my hunch is the response would be long life.
Therefore, what’s involved in inspiring younger adults to view older adults in a different way and embrace the longevity that goes along with reaching the milestone of an advanced age?
What would that look like and how could we inspire them to embrace longevity?
Much of the issue is related to the fact that attitudes become enculturated from the time we are young and are reinforced by our verbiage. It is essentially an oxymoron when we use the word ‘Old’ in our language from the time we are young, when we ask a child “how old are you?” Of course, there are many other examples from our language that reinforces ageism, but the word ‘old’ is one that stands out to me as being counterintuitive. It’s cute when a child who is 9 years old finally becomes 10 years old, excited about achieving double digit status; from 12 we turn 13 years old and we’ve achieved the coveted teenage years, progressing to 19 we’re thrilled to be amongst the twenty-year olds. Notice with each decade society seems to celebrate advancement; we continue to grow, our accomplishments celebrated. But as we reach our elder years, 60 and above, the perspective changes and even more so once we reach “retirement” age, a rapidly changing number. I therefore questions pertaining to a person’s age would be far more dignified if posed in this fashion, “what year are you in?”, “how many years do you have?” or “what’s your age?”
There are also objections to using word senior when referring to older adults. However, in looking at the use of the word at earlier stages of life, as in reaching the senior years of high school and college, it is lauded as an accomplishment. Counterintuitively, when advancing to the senior years of our lives, from there it’s considered a downward slide. We need to reimagine reaching the senior years of our lives as an accomplishment, a journey similar to reaching the pinnacle of any other climb. Not the beginning of a decline but rather continuing a climb towards a zenith. Societal attitudes towards the senior or retirement years, or towards a retiree, are not necessarily in terms of progression or celebrating accomplishments. We become labelled and remain part of that demographic for the entirety of our lives from that time forward. These societal attitudes also become internalized by older adults as much as it is a stigma in society.
Rather than thinking in terms of our future selves, if we can think of embracing the fact that we are all “emerging or evolving elders” an active process that lives inside of us eventuating in a status to be celebrated, achieving wisdom from long lives lived replete with a wealth of experiences. In doing, so, it is a process to be embraced. As an emerging elder, we may be able to encourage younger adults to identify with their later years, and therefore, identify with older people. It’s about the individual life journey and thus, counterintuitive to prejudicial attitudes towards older adults and to ageism.