by Cyndi Springford
“Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age.” — Gloria Steinem
My early impressions of aging were, of course, procured by watching my parents deal with it. Both of them have their fair share of hang-ups when it comes to appearance. Mom would spend almost two hours fussing over her hair and make-up. Dad went so far as to dabble in cosmetic surgery. It seemed like the emphasis was on preserving any semblance of youth in order to be deemed acceptable. God forbid you let the world see a wrinkle on your face or a gray hair on your head.
For a while, I viewed aging as a curse rather than a blessing. On my 31st birthday, I was besieged by panic of epic proportions when I realized that I was now “in my thirties.” You can imagine my dismay. I just knew that hours of primping would be in my future. I mean, like mother and father, like daughter, right?
I noticed something was different when I turned 39 on December 21st, 2010. This particular birthday would now qualify me as a member of the “39 Forever” club, provided there was any more room left in it. Having hit this almost-milestone, I occasionally found myself spending a little more time looking in the mirror than normal. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, it was then and is now more to check for potential gray hairs or lines around my eyes and mouth than it is to gaze longingly at my pristine reflection. After all, isn’t that what one does when you get to be my age?
Shortly after that birthday, I got together with a dear friend for a drink. He and I have known each other for several years. As we chatted about getting older, he commented that I haven’t changed at all; that I look the same today as I looked back then. I smiled and thanked him for the compliment (and no, he didn’t follow that up by asking for money).
Thanks to genetics and some good living, I haven’t really changed all that much. However, it’s what you don’t see that has.
Perhaps, more importantly, the changes associated with getting older are more internal than external.
Let me explain.
Aging has changed me in ways I never imagined. Here are five cool changes that come with aging.
1. People’s opinions of you don’t matter that much anymore. Mark Twain once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” I was always clamoring for people’s approval my whole life, whether it was from my parents, my teachers, my friends, or my boss. What they all thought of me took precedence over my own self-concept. The older I get, the more in-tune I become with my own inner guidance. I don’t make choices in my life to please others nearly as much as I used to. There is a fine line between being a compassionate, giving person and a wishy-washy doormat. I’ve learned how to set boundaries, and it feels good to do that unapologetically.
2. You’re more comfortable in your own skin. This is kind of related to the first point. Since I don’t care what other people think of me like I used to, I don’t treat my body like a trophy or show piece to garner attention from the peanut gallery. I used to think that my body was my currency. I spent many years trying to make it look a certain way because I thought that was the ticket to being accepted and gaining approval. The gift of growing older was realizing that I was so much more than just a body. So what if there is a dimple or two on my thighs or an extra couple pieces of “laundry” shielding my washboard abs? I’m strong. I’m healthy. And I’m pretty sure I can still turn a head or two. Not that I’ve noticed, mind you (see No. 1).
3. You become more private, in a good way. As long as I can remember, I’ve been the sort of person who loved to be the center of attention. I’d tell anyone anything they wanted to know, no matter how well I knew them. I was a group exercise instructor for close to 20 years. I loved “performing.” My classes were a combination of “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” and standup comedy. I loved sharing stories about my weekend, and let everyone into my personal world without a second thought.Now, I’ve become weary of small talk. With the exception of my penchant for blogging, I’m not okay with divulging information about myself to casual acquaintances. I just don’t want to talk about myself to people that much. I’m drawing a more tangible line between my professional and personal lives.
4. Home is finally where your heart is. I used to be a busy bee in my late teens and early to mid-twenties. My days were chock full of appointments, nights out with friends, work obligations, and other social activities. I was always running from here to there in a frenzy. There was a certain restlessness to my spirit and I thrived on this chaotic way of living. Looking back, I think I did that to avoid being alone with myself. I had been a chronic dieter / disordered eater / excessive exerciser for many years because I wasn’t at peace with my body. I wasn’t at peace with my body because I wasn’t at peace with myself. I don’t think I was satisfied with my own company.Now, I can’t be bothered with all the hustle and bustle. I love my friends and I derive a good amount of satisfaction from my job. But I don’t need to take on the world and have a full calendar away from home anymore. I don’t like to go out on weeknights, as a general rule. My idea of an exciting Friday night is cozying up on the leather sofa with a glass of red wine and my Kindle. And I’m OK with that.
5. You know your purpose. For as long as I can remember, my life has been a process of searching for something, anything, to show me meaning and purpose. Is it the right career? The right religion? The right relationship? I assigned all kinds of responsibility to external factors that I had no control over. Through meditation and self-study, I began to realize that my purpose is joy. Not only that, I am the only person who can make me happy. I can’t expect anyone else to do that for me.Now that I know this, all the other areas flow much smoother. Because there are no expectations. They are bonuses to me. They enhance my life dramatically. I appreciate my relationships and my material blessings immensely and realize just how much I have to be thankful for. But I am 100% complete without them. I learned to sit with myself. And I liked it.
Gray hair and facial lines?
Well, my friends, they only tell part of the aging story.
Cyndi Springford is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, an ACE/AFAA Personal Trainer and creator of the Love Your Body Project: Peace, Love and Food. Catch up with her over here.