This year the youngest of the baby boomers turns 50.
Here’s my confession: Although I didn’t blink an eye when I turned 30 or 40, three years ago when it was time to turn the big 5-0, I rallied against it.
Reaching the half-century mark felt like I was moving into the final phase of life and, well, like I was OLD. Menopause had arrived, it was time for a colonoscopy, and my bank offered me the dreaded senior discount. To add insult to injury, I had to have a dental implant and shoulder surgery.
Once I moved past the birthday, however, I soon changed my mind.
Fifty was actually a great time in my life. I had recently become a full-time minister, learned sign language, and did volunteer work with the deaf. I was still able to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing professionally and had taken on some new, interesting writing projects. I had a great marriage, kids, and grandkids.
On top of that, I came to value the experience and wisdom that only comes with age. I’ve learned to forgive more easily, to live more simply and in the present, to let go of perfection, to be more grateful, to value the people I love, and to laugh at myself. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff anymore – and learned that nearly everything is ‘small stuff.’
A lifelong people-pleaser, I learned to say no and to let go of people that only bring negativity to my life. I don’t have the energy, interest, or patience for drama anymore. Thanks to menopause, no more periods, PMS, threat of a late life pregnancy, or worries about cysts and fibroids. What freedom! And thank-goodness, achieving that perfect bikini body is no longer on my list of things to do, which is incredibly liberating.
In other words, fifty doesn’t mean you become the stereotypical frumpy, wrinkled menopausal witch or the over-sexed, botoxed cougar with fake boobs trying to nab that young guy.
It’s true, 50 can be freaking fabulous!
Look at Katie Couric who became the first female solo anchor of a national evening news show right before she turned 50. Or Laura Ingalls Wilder, who saw the first of her Little House books published when she was in her 60s. Colonel Sanders didn’t come up with the secrete recipe until he was 50. Or how about the fab Diane Keaton who produced her seventh movie and realistically played the heartthrob of 39-year-old Keanu Reeves in the funny movie, Something’s Gotta Give, at the age of 57?
Michelle Obama, who dances and wears classy clothes, just turned 50. She told Parade magazine, “I have never felt more confident in myself, more clear on who I am as a woman.”
Personally, this has been true for me. I wouldn’t go back to my 20s with all its insecurities and angst if you paid me a million dollars. I finally know what makes me happy – what I want personally, spiritually, and professionally and how to get it.
“A seasoned woman is spicy,” writes Gail Sheehy, the over-50 author of Passages and founder of the Seasoned Women’s Network online. “She has been marinated in life experience. She is at the peak of her influence and power. She is committed to living fully and passionately in the second half of life, despite failures and false starts.”
I agree with Gail. We are seasoned, sassy, and spicy. Most of us are still physically strong at this age and ready to tackle new challenges. As an extra perk, it turns out we are smarter. Older folks performed better on four of six cognitive tests compared to when they were younger, according to the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which tracked the brain function of adults over the past 50 years. We’re also a lot better at abstract and spatial reasoning, verbal acumen, and even simple math, the study found. Maybe all that brain power is why mature women seem to control a lot of wealth in the U.S., with those age 50 and older controlling net worth of some $19 trillion.
In fact, more people over 50 are taking on “encore” careers, reinventing themselves in professions that follow their passions. Nonprofit group Encore.org, dedicated to helping professionals find their “second act,” notes that as many as 9 million people age 44 to 70 are getting paid for work that combines their personal passion with a social purpose.
Although a 2012 AARP study showed there is a U-shaped happiness curve with the early 50s as the lowest point of well-being, that’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why not embrace our age? That’s what I’m learning to do as I try to stay healthy and continue to try and learn new things – like blogging, paddle boarding, and zip lining.
There’s no reason to dread turning 60 either. Research shows that the oldest Americans (age 65 and up) are the happiest. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that in general we feel happier as we age.
So to those of you who are part of the over-50 crowd like me – let’s celebrate the fact that we’re alive and vibrant. Rejoice that we’re still young enough to live life to its fullest. Sure, we face problems and issues that are part of growing older, but the alternative is much, much worse. We should all be grateful that we get to be in our 50’s. Let’s not forget, not everyone gets that honor and privilege.
So if that big birthday is coming up, don’t be like me and mourn the fact that we’re getting older. Instead, go out there and make your fifties rock!