Many clients come to me because they feel stuck in a personal or professional situation – stale relationship, job they could do in their sleep, that sort of thing — that no longer suits them. Most clients respond well to my optimistic message that they are resourceful beings who can accomplish whatever they want with the right strategy. But every once in a while I encounter a client like a woman I’ll call Jenny who firmly told me last week in response to my usual encouragement, “It’s too late for me. I’m too old.” Clients like Jenny equate chronological aging beyond a certain point – always some random number — with narrowing options, decreasing satisfaction, and declining power. Such clients operate under the way-outdated idea that the older you get, the less you have to look forward to. It’s a shame these clients haven’t figured out that the opposite is actually true; truer than ever, in fact.
Psychologists are increasingly seeing that the older adults become, the more variety, confidence, and joy they experience. There is a direct correlation between advancing years and expanding freedom; specifically, freedom to dump cumbersome baggage, experiment with fresh ideas, and embark on new adventures. Savvy adults put their collected wisdom about themselves and the world toward breaking away from convention, carrying out inner passions, and having more fun.
Take 52-year-old Neal for instance, a successful accountant who’s life became imminently more interesting when he quit his job and launched a used mystery book store out of his garage. Or comfortably married 47-year-old Paula, who decided she’d rather be a hip single woman in an urban loft than ride out the rest of her years (as her mother had) with in an okay but not great husband. We’re not talking about the old mid-life crisis routine where you get restless, buy a red sports car or have an affair, then come to your senses and settle back into your humdrum existence and await old age. What psychologists are talking about is grabbing life by the horns and infusing it with your distinct personality in grand, sweeping style. A second adolescence — but with better judgment and greater self-awareness this time around, and without the awkwardness and the curfew.
Just consider the possibilities for personal reinvention when you view aging as a chance to buck convention and start anew with the benefit of life experience to draw on. Unhappy in adolescence? Instead of regretting that you weren’t outgoing and confident back then, you can approach the future as an opportunity to assert yourself and get out in the world in ways that really resonate and make up for lost time. Have it made as a teenager? Rather than grieving for the loss of your carefree youth, regard right now as your chance to unleash untapped longings and take risks with enhanced dexterity. All you have to do to make life better is ask yourself what adolescent activities you missed out on, what ones you don’t want to repeat, and what you want to do more of from that era.
If you use the answers to these questions to inform your future, you will find that getting older will be less and less about resignation –I have to stick out this lackluster job/relationship/fill- in- the- blank because it’s too late to change — and more and more about getting closer to who you are and what you really want. What’s great about adolescence is the thrill of trying on new identities, beliefs, and attitudes until you find what you like. What’s even better now is the pleasure associated with reviving your youthful rule-breaking spirit and channeling it with mature, sure-footed conviction into a more seasoned and satisfying version of what might have been.