I’ve been asking myself a question for some time now, “Who do I want to be when I’m OLD?” without precisely specifying when “old” might be. After all, I’m “old” now given that I’m 70 and happily living a life of retirement from my original career (nursing). But the question I pose to myself is more about the title of this blog – it’s more about aging vs. GROWING old – with an emphasis on growth.
When we ask a child, or even an emerging adult, WHO or WHAT they want to be when they’re all “grown up” we’re usually asking about their ambitions for career, their hopes and dreams for their future or their educational aspirations. We’re not surprised by answers like, “I want to be an astronaut!” or “I want to be a scientist!”. In college, the answer might be, “I want to be a lawyer” or “I’m studying to be an engineer.” When we put the question, as I have in my opening sentence, to a septuagenarian, like me, it is less about ambition or aspiration, and more about inspiration.
Figuring out who I want to be ten, maybe even twenty years from now brings a different perspective to the choices I’m making today. Let me explain…
A friend recently described a vacation she took, it was a cruise, and while she had a lovely time she made several observations about her fellow passengers on the ship. First, they were predominantly older adults (Right, who has time and money to take a cruise? Old people!) but they were also demonstrating all the signs of aging with illness or the chronic conditions that added limitations to their lives, rather than options. They were “on vacation” but seemingly unable to enjoy the many opportunities the trip offered. They weren’t up for exploring the port cities, moving freely among the crowded shops or even taking advantage of the fitness center on the ship which offered a host of free classes and equipment.
That’s NOT who I want to be as I grow old! And the choices I’m making today are crucial to moving the needle of probability in the direction I’d prefer. I’d want to be the cruising octogenarian who can get off the ship on my own (not waiting for the purser to fetch me a wheelchair and escort) and walk the cobblestone streets of an ancient city, exploring the sights I’ve only read about in my lifetime. It may be that I’m walking those streets with a beautiful, hand-carved walking stick, but I want to be out there, connecting with the world!
I also want to be able to connect with others, people younger and older than myself. I want to be interested in the things that they’re up to and able to enjoy a conversation that invites diversity and expansiveness. What I don’t want is to be caught up in the “organ recital” of aches and pains that so many seniors pretend is conversation.
Getting old, or GROWING old? So, if that’s who I’m planning to be in my 80s and beyond, there are decisions I need to be consistently making NOW that will enable me to GROW into that person, not simply age into my future by default. That’s the difference between GROWING old and simply getting old!
Okay, but what if I’m still young? Right, you wouldn’t want to be examining your decisions now (at 30 or 40 or 50) to determine the outcome they might be having on your future self, would you? Well, maybe you would! A friend & relative recently posted on his Facebook page that his weight gain of 150 pounds over roughly 30 years amounted to merely 50 calories a day. That’s all.
He offers the math: 50 calories x 7 days per week = 350 excess calories per week. A pound is 3500 calories, so that’s a pound every 10 weeks, or 5 pounds per year. Do that for 30 years, and you have 150 pounds that you never actually planned to accumulate! He remembers, “I never ate really crazy, but I ate out a lot, so the portions were a little too big, and they’d refill my soda too frequently!”
What might you choose today, that could help you be that person you WANT to be when you’re old? For me, it’s all about self-care. And the choices I’m making today can, and likely WILL, influence the opportunities I have to enjoy the years that lie ahead. I’d prefer to encounter them with mobility, independence and a sense of vitality.
So, I’m choosing exercise (especially yoga for flexibility and better range of motion), whole foods (since that donut every week will add up to those extra 50 calories per day) and strong connections, that support mental/emotional health and reduce isolation that can all too often accompany old age.
What does YOUR self-care plan look like? Will it support YOUR answer to the question, “Who do I want to be when I’m OLD?” I certainly hope so. We’re constantly free to make adjustments to the plan.
And, as always, let me know if I can help!