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      OVER THE HILL?  NO WAY!

by Caroline Corser

Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles

 

 I attended a 50th birthday party for a friend recently where everyone wore black to mourn his passing the half-century mark, and “over the hill” was the theme of the day. It was all in fun, of course, but the message was all wrong.

 The expression, “over the hill,” implies a downward slide into the pits for the rest of life. It suggests loss of everything we value. People actually fear this birthday because it implies that they are “getting old” in the worst sense of the word. They picture themselves becoming useless, senile, crotchety old folks with false teeth and a bent back doomed to die alone in a nursing home.

 As a speaker on aging issues, I’ve been researching the whole aging picture, and the facts tell a totally different story. The truth is that people nowadays are continuing to be physically and mentally active and productive, even into their 90's and beyond.

 A case in point is the life story of sisters Bessie and Sadie Delaney, who were still living a full life, in their own home, at ages 101 and 103. They did their own shopping, cooking, and house cleaning. They took care of their health by eating nutritious foods and doing yoga exercises every day. The older sister, Bessie, died at age 105, and Sadie died six years later when she was 109.

 Our extended life span, with improved nutrition and health care, has now prompted biomedical scientists to define middle age from 50 to 70. Research has shown that not only are we living longer, but we are living healthier lives than our parents did. Hugh Downs, in his book Fifty to Forever, also quoted research, which revealed that the average person over 65 spends only 15 days a year in bed because of illness.

Our brains do not deteriorate, either. In fact, studies at Berkeley and UCLA have shown that we do not lose brain cells. On the contrary, our minds improve with age. The more we use our brains, the more connections are made between the cells, resulting in improved reasoning skills. Furthermore, our experience gained from at least thirty years of adult life gives us a wisdom that those twenty/thirty-year-old youngsters should envy. We’ve learned from our mistakes and can now move ahead that much the wiser.

It seems to me that we should rejoice at passing 50. We are entering the age of wisdom and freedom. We have the knowledge and experience to create a new life--one that we always wished for when we were younger. And as we reach retirement age, we have the freedom to choose what we want to do with the rest of our lives.

Some people choose to continue working indefinitely. If a career is truly exciting and challenging, it can provide meaning and gratification for a lifetime. Lydia Bronte, in her book, The Longevity Factor: The New Reality of Long Careers and How It can Lead to Richer Lives, describes 150 men and women who have pursued their careers well past the age of retirement, sometimes to even 90 or more. She cites famous people in all types of careers, such as Jonas Salk, Julia Child, Hugh Downs, Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, as well as many who are less well known but equally productive and industrious.

Others who retire from their place of employment have the freedom to start all over again, embarking on new endeavors that often take them into activities that are entirely different from their previous lives. In my research, I have interviewed a counselor-turned-Peace Corps volunteer, an early childhood education professor who took up watercolor painting, and a high school dropout who is working on her master’s degree in history. Among many others are a housewife, mother of five, who now teaches line dancing and aerobics to other seniors and a high school counselor who plays on a woman’s in-line hockey team. All those I’ve talked with are enthusiastic about life and eager to continue doing what they love to do just as long as they are able.

But many people fear retirement and see their 50th birthday as the warning that the end is near. The word “retirement” is defined as a “withdrawal” or “removal,” and we tend to see that as withdrawal from life. Just the opposite should be true. With retirement from employment, we have exciting possibilities for exploring ventures we never had time for before. The average person can expect to live 20 to 30 years or more after the age of retirement. Those can be the best years of our lives with possibilities that are endless.

Instead of thinking of 50 as “over the hill,” we should see a very different picture. Imagine the progression of our day-to-day lives as a gently rising plateau that leads to emerging hills on the horizon. Then let us view 50 as the summit of the first foothill, revealing an ever-ascending road to a glorious future--one filled with new experiences--as we discover our untapped potentials.

That birthday should be the signal to start planning for our second adulthood. The years from 50 to retirement are the ideal time to explore our talents and interests. We can search our souls and find hidden abilities and passions that have been smoldering since childhood. We can join organizations that promote our interests or volunteer to help with our favorite causes. We can experiment with new hobbies and pastimes that might develop into full-time adventures after retirement. Life after 50 can become a fascinating time of discovery.

Then when we do retire, we will be ready to involve ourselves in meaningful activities, rather than drifting into a series of mindless chores that offer no personal gratification. We will have a purpose in life and the time to pursue that purpose. Life after 50 can be our opportunity to prepare for and enjoy a whole new future.

Many of us spent years preparing for a career, assuming that it would take us through our whole lives. Now we know that effort only prepared us for the first half of our adulthood. This turning point is our opportunity to prepare for a second life--one of new horizons and exciting adventure.

Let us not think of 50 as “over the hill.” Let us see it as the first summit beyond the plateau, leading to an eventful and meaningful future that spreads out in a multitude of directions. The possibilities are unlimited. Embrace them. Enjoy them. Make the most of them.

 

Caroline Corser, Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles, speaks to baby boomers and seniors about filling your life with laughter and play. She can be reached at 661-871-9201 or    caroline@AwesomeAging.com

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