The conversation you have with yourself and others in your generation will be ongoing
and multifaceted, but an excellent starting point is to consider these questions:
What does your future story of aging look like?
When you think about getting older, how do you define what that means for you?
Do you ever see yourself as being “elderly”?
Do you envision yourself when you hear the words “senior citizen”? (And let’s face it, that’s probably the most ridiculous of the terms out there, considering we don’t have “junior citizens” or anything of the sort.)
Perhaps we should drop the label “senior” or redefine it. Clearly this term has helped to embed ageist stereotypes into our societal psyche. It used to be, as David Wolfe, author of the pioneering books Serving the Ageless Market (1990) and Ageless Marketing (2003), wrote, “Senior is not an inherently negative term… Being a senior used to connote a superior standing in every context but aging.”
Sure, many don’t mind enjoying the “senior” discounts. And for those who do retire—fully or partially—the advantages of having more free time, fewer demands, and less stress overall are additional perks.
But of course we don’t have to wait until we retire to create this kind of lifestyle. We don’t have to retire at all.
In fact, many characteristics of the stereotypical senior citizen don’t really have much to do with age at all. Or at least they don’t have to be related to age, even if we as a society have somewhat arbitrarily decided they do. These characteristics can include retirement, volunteer work, adapting our lifestyle to physical changes, having more control over our time and environment.
All of these are choices we might make at any age.
So if we strip away other people’s definitions of what it means to age, what it means to be over 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100… where does that leave us? How do we define ourselves as protagonists in our own aging story?
We all have different comfort levels with various terms. Some shy away from “elderly” but don’t mind being seen as an “elder.” Some don’t mind being called “older” but feel uncomfortable being called simply “old.” Yet another person might get fed up with euphemisms and actually demand to be called “old,” dammit!
I’ve always relished the term “Crone,” the idea of taking back its original meaning of wise old woman. Some, including those who have chosen not to have children, prefer to be seen as “grandmother.” In ancient times, the Crone was valued and revered as a wise and prophetic goddess in her own right. Traced back to pre-history, societies that are thought to have had the first egalitarian “partnerships” between women and men lasted for about 20,000 years. Then, as Riane Eisler describes in her underground classic, The Chalice and the Blade (1988), these early societies “veered off on ‘a bloody 5,000-year detour’ of male domination.” Along with these partnership societies, the Crone and all images of the positive feminine were devalued, leaving only the Divine Feminine (e.g., Mother Mary) as the preferred universal Mother image to survive intact into our modern day.
Fortunately, today’s twenty-first century women are resuscitating the whole panoply of feminine archetypal goddesses, like those we have buried way below our consciousness carrying the powerful energy of the Black Madonna, the flip side of Mother Mary (e.g., Mary Magdalene, Sophia, Kali Ma, Kuan Yin, and more), so that we can reclaim our fullness by embodying the whole range of our womanhood.
I’ll tell you a secret. Every time I write—for my blog, for a workshop or keynote, for a book or article—I have to stop yet again and consider this issue: What do we call ourselves? Elders? Do I avoid the word “old” or use it unabashedly? Do I refer to us as aging or stick to euphemisms or numbers, like post-50? Maybe the over-sixties? But what about including 40-plus?
Boomers…and older? Matures? How do we distinguish between the early and late Boomers, who are as different as Led Zeppelin is from the Beatles? At what point do generational labels lose their usefulness?
It’s tricky, this act of labeling, and even trickier when we try to define a larger group of people who may or may not have anything in common besides their similarity in age, if even that.
That thinking brings me back to the only person any of us can ever truly and accurately define: ourselves. Yet this is the one person we so often let others define for us. We plan to retire roughly when we’re supposed to. We see ourselves as less and less attractive according to the dictates of Society (with a capital S). And heaven forbid we start any long-term venture—a business, a campaign, an ongoing artistic endeavor—beyond “retirement age.”
Fortunately, fewer and fewer people are allowing themselves to be defined by these expectations. More Baby Boomers, for example, are starting new businesses than any other generation today, and women are at the forefront of this movement. The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity reports that Boomer start-ups increased from 18.7 percent to over 25 percent between 2003 and 2019. According to the American Economic Journal, one out of every ten United States women is starting or running her own business. More people are realizing that they don’t want to (or perhaps can’t) retire, and regardless of the circumstances, they are exploring new ways of working and of making the future work.
Once again, we’re back to that place where the old definitions no longer automatically apply. For many of us, this shift away from outmoded definitions means that how we define ourselves in our forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and beyond is not a whole lot different than how we would define ourselves in our twenties and thirties—based on our interests, our values, our plans for the future, our relationships, our capacity to love, to give, to create. The only differences are that now we have more experience and more wisdom, and that now our bodies are changing in new ways that we must incorporate into our plans for the future. But even these vary from individual to individual, and age to age.
So, when you strip away who you’re supposed to be, how do you define who you are? In your entry in the World Dictionary of People, are you a noun? An adjective? A verb? Do you have multiple meanings depending on context? Who are you, really? What is your “Now” Story? Do you know what your “Future” Story is?
Seeking the answers to these questions, and not just accepting it, but embracing it, is key to the process of becoming Ageless and integrating The Ageless Way.
That’s only part of it, however. Who we are—as a generation and across generations—is also a necessary question to answer together if we are going to create a world in which we change the cultural story around aging, where all ages and stages can find that Ageless self and create an environment where that self can thrive.