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I’m Sixty is it all over?
I’m Sixty, is it all over?
The other day I woke up to find I’m 60. It’s meant that I’ve had several ‘milestone’ birthdays, which up until now have never registered as significant. Well, that’s not quite true. At thirty I realised I was never going to play football for England, but seeing as I hadn’t played competitive football for ten years it was a bit of a stretch even for an optimist like me, so I coped. I was curious as to how I’d feel this time. And I have to say it’s been different.
Firstly, I’ve begun to get discounts on certain things, like train travel and entrance to National Trust places, which has made me realise that society is both seeing me in a different way, and by extension, is expecting me to see myself differently too. It feels as if the expectation is that I should begin to wind down, to harvest my life to date, to begin to have an expectation of less.
Secondly, I’m seeing adverts for various physical aids and supports appear on my timeline. To me, it’s encouraging me to expect my strength to begin to diminish, for my health to begin to fail.
I had the misfortune of falling ill with something that kept me debilitated for a month, two weeks either side of my birthday, and I confess in the depths of my bug-driven self-pity, I did wonder if this was a sign that they were right. Should I expect the robust health and ridiculous energy that I’ve always enjoyed to begin to slide?
It’s a worry because my fitness has always been a keystone habit of mine – whatever else was going on, I’ve learned that maintaining my fitness is key to me feeling happy with myself. Each year I’ve set myself a target that would be evidence of a net gain. As I sat sick on my sofa, I wondered whether I’d run my fastest 10k, pumped out my highest number of press-ups? Have I peaked? This might sound ridiculous because in our culture the answer would obviously be yes. And in some ways I know it must be true. It was made painfully clear when I ran the 10k for CHECT this year, and my 30-year-old running partner suggested we sprint the last two hundred metres, that her version of sprinting was a very different beast to mine – and it totally surprised me. I was a fast runner – when I was 10, and I’ve kept that belief intact. So to see me on video, thinking I looked like Usain Bolt, but actually looking like a wheezy old bloke hurrying for a bus, was a bit of a blow. Yet even faced with this face-slap of reality my first response was ‘I’ll have to work on that for next year’. A bit of me seriously thinks I can beat her still. Maybe that’s the folly of age (it will be), but it’s not a mindset I’m in any hurry to sacrifice.
Because while age might begin to shave the peak from my performance, a performance remains and I want to stay at the edge of it. If I accept I’m on a slide, how much further will that surrender of attitude send me down it? I do not intend to go gently into that good night.
As I see it, age is just another possible constraint, and research shows that we perform best with constraints. If we have limitless possibilities, it makes us less creative and productive. Strange but true. In an experiment they got a famous Japanese artist to paint a series of paintings. One set of canvasses began blank, the other set had a random line or mark added beforehand that he had to incorporate into his work. The public were asked to judge which they found most original. The ones where he had been constrained by the marks or lines won. This is important. We all have a set of constraints to operate within. Whether it’s our family commitments, working hours or conditions, issues of health or duty, nobody lives under perfect conditions. And I’ve often heard my students trot these constraints out as reasons why they can’t launch their hypnotherapy business – that it has to wait until conditions are more favourable. Guess what? They never will be. We’ve found, after twenty years of running Quest, that as one constraint recedes, another rises. The question is only, where are the gaps in these limitations? Where is the opportunity hidden in this set of challenges? Given comfort and security would a single mother living on benefits have written Harry Potter? Would Nelson Mandela have been the leader he was if he hadn’t experienced 27 years of hardship in prison? Our life is our life’s work. It can be our greatest creative act, but all creativity involves paddling, not waiting for a favourable wind.
And so it is for me now. I’m sixty. I’m strongly aware of the privilege of getting here. I have several friends who didn’t. I am tremendously fortunate in the shape I’ve arrived herein. Some peaks of youth are on the horizon of my past, but it’s strangely exciting to look forward and wonder what new peaks are still possible, even if only relative to my age.
I spent roughly twenty years as a child, twenty years as a police officer, and twenty years as a therapist/teacher, so I look forward and wonder, what am I going to be for the next twenty years? The answer can be, ‘anything I set my mind to’ if I choose that mindset. Fortuitously, yesterday I eavesdropped on a 91-year-old ex-jockey sharing how he plays table tennis on Mondays, has art class on Tuesdays, carpet bowls on Wednesday…he reminded me of a friend’s mother in law who entered the shot-putt in the senior Olympics in her 90’s. Her philosophy was that she only had to stay fit and outlive her competition to be assured of a medal. There can always be challenges if we seek them, and we become better people when we do.
My invitation to you, extended from this elderly ramble, is to consider your constraints. At your age, what is society subtly suggesting you should be doing, or have achieved by now? If you’re pursuing them, are they actually making you happy? What would, and what’s stopping you? Look at your life. What is the story you’re telling yourself about it? Really think about that. Write your answer. What is the story you’re telling yourself about your life? How is that constraining you? How could you change that story to take you where you’d rather go? What I’ve learned, as a sexagenarian (boy am I milking this) is that our story is all there is…and a story is all it is. We can be the authors of it, or just a character in a narrative driven by others – our society, our parents, our peers, or our partners. When we reveal to ourselves the constraints our story has wrapped around us, we reveal what is keeping us stuck from the life we’d be happiest living. Then we have a choice. To forget that revelation, or pick up the pen and start a re-write, to find the space for growth within those limitations. It’s not easy to write yourself a new story – at any age – but it is possible.
Seeing a Cognitive Hypnotherapist to help you do this is a positive step I recommend.
So, I woke up the other day to find I’m sixty. Hurrah! What a reason to start again. What a reason to seek new challenges. What a reason to look at the constraints my society is seeking to wrap me in, find the benefits (I am so going with the discounts), and reject the rest. What a reason to celebrate the bullshit I’ve let go of from my youth, to acknowledge the bullshit that appears at this age, and laugh at the sheer joy of being alive and well. And seek some new peaks to climb. Even if they have to be zimmer frame-friendly.