49 And I Ain't Budging!

by Susan C. Litton, Ph.D.

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Raggedy AnnesWhen I was in my 30's and early 40's, I looked upon the issue of aging with a certain amount of reverent awe. I identified with the line from the John Denver song, "It turns me on to think of growing old," and I viewed older people as being wise, at peace with the universe and having answers to questions that I longed to understand. However, in the 4+ years since my 45th birthday, I am experiencing an increasingly uneasy change of heart. My next birthday - the one that follows 49 - has become a dreaded occasion. I do NOT feel wise or at peace, nor do I have answers to most of the questions I had in my 30's and early 40's. Instead I feel an increasing variety of aches and pains and a most interesting (and growing) assortment of sags, bags, spots and lines. If this is all there is to aging, then my current answer to the whole experience is that I ain't budging.

However, in fairness to the romantic idealism of my earlier years, it seemed that I should at least think through the whole thing a bit more before making a final decision to stay put. So as I all-too-rapidly approach the year that follows 49, I begrudgingly agreed to at least spend a bit of time reflecting on where I am and where I've been:

  • I used to strive for perfection. It was such an intrinsic part of who I was that it never occurred to me to that it was something I could change - much less something that I might want to change. It simply "was". Aging forces you to see things differently. It's a little difficult to continue clinging to perfectionism as a way of life when you see yourself getting worse at some things instead of better. You've got to either put a different slant on things or spend larger and larger chunks of your time being depressed. Given those options, "different slant" starts to have definite appeal. As a result, my goal is no longer to be perfect, but rather to spend time getting to know and accept who I really am. An amazing outgrowth of this semi-forced experiment is that I'm beginning to see how my uniqueness (yes, maybe even a few of the sags, bags, spots and lines) offers something special that a more "perfected" version of me would never be able to.
  • I used to think it was important to be liked . . . except for the period in my life when I fought against that concept so fiercely that I tried to "do my own thing" despite what others thought. I finally learned that when one's "own thing" is defined as the opposite of what others would like, that it still isn't really one's "own thing". After that minor revelation, I was able to actually settle down to the task of discovering what my "own thing" really was.