Don’t Let the Myths of Aging Hold You Back

Patrick Furlong, Motivational Gerontologist *

     Thanks to medical advances, we in the baby boom generation have been given an additional 20 years of life.  Unfortunately, many of us see latter life as a period of limitations and decline because that is what it represented for many of our parents and grandparents. This picture of latter life is perpetuated by a number of myths and distorted perceptions of older people.

     While it is true that as we age we do lose physical strength, become more susceptible to disease, and can lose mental sharpness, these outcomes can be greatly mitigated. Indeed, with the right approaches to life style, diet, exercise, nutritional supplementation, and mental activity, we can be mentally and physically healthy and productive well into our nineties and older!!!!. And, while providing our generation with Social Security and Medicare benefits poses a great challenge to our economic system, the potential contribution we can make to the economy, the culture, and the institutions of America far outweigh the potential cost society will incur on our behalf.

     To make the most of these additional years of life, we must first develop a vision of what the latter third of life will be for us personally.  To do this most effectively, we must first get real with ourselves and then with everyone else who has expectations of us including our children, spouses, employers, clergy, doctors, and so on.   We have to understand the myths of aging and reject the limitations they put on us so that we can see the possibilities and begin to develop a vision that comes from our heart and soul.  The most important thing is that the vision is truly ours and that it truly represents who we are as we have evolved over the years. 

     The vision can be as simple and pleasurable as spending most of our time relaxing with family and friends. Or it can be a vision that includes starting a new business, a non-profit, or getting physically fit.  It can include reconciliation, spiritual renewal, or furthering our education.  It can be a combination of any number of different elements.  When we develop our personal vision for this stage of life, we must remember that  there are no self-imposed, family-imposed, or society-imposed “shoulds” to limit our creative processes. 

     Unfortunately, there are not a lot of role models or aids to help us develop the vision for this period of our lives. Indeed, most of our parents and grandparents did not have the opportunity to really create a vision for this stage of life for themselves.  The accepted model of the life course and the myths of aging really created it for them.  Moreover, most self-help books and motivational seminars are geared for younger individuals trying to make personal changes or create a model for success in mid-life. Exacerbating this problem for us is the structural lag between the rapid changes an aging society creates and the ability of our institutions to accommodate these changes.

        As a consequence, those of us on the leading edge of the baby boom will once again have the opportunity to break new ground for the rest of the generation and the generations that follow.  Non-conformists in our youth, most of us turned conformists in our middle years.  Now we must decide individually and collectively whether to conform to the myths of aging in this stage of our journey or create a new paradigm that embraces all possibilities and is totally self-created, totally individualistic, and totally satisfying. 

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© 2005 Patrick Furlong - all rights reserved.