One of the ways that getting older impacts, and I have noticed this a lot, is wondering whether you are at the ‘right’ point in your life for your age. People seem to gauge how far they have progressed, whether in their career or in their personal life, through age markers. I see it in my own children as they compare where they’re at with everyone else.But I have always felt that while there are life stages for everyone, these stages occur at different times for each person. I also find it fascinating that people seem to think that at a certain age, particularly as you get older, people should be doing or not doing certain things. And I think that is an assumption to be challenged. Especially if you believe, as I do, that age is largely in the mind. Biological stages and physical wear and tear aside, I think ‘age’ as a part of the ‘human condition’ has a lot to do with how people take care of themselves, mentally and physically, and how they approach life.
At all ages you have to use your body and your mind. For example, I think it’s unacceptable to believe you don’t need to understand what your children are talking about or to be unable to use technology. I am not saying that it comes easily, but it’s a good fight. If someone doesn’t keep current then in a way they let themselves become irrelevant. And then society around them treats them as irrelevant. In the same way, you can’t stop exercising when you’re older just because you’re ‘not as good at it as you once were’ and expect to keep strong and fit.
Life is really about keeping agile and adapting to change. I used to work very hard and think it was fine to do other things later on ‘down the line’, such as concentrate on a partner or children. People put a lot of things on hold, but then a shock can happen – an illness or perhaps you lose your partner so you can’t do all those things together you were planning on doing. And you have to reassess.
After my own cancer treatment, I knew I had to change my outlook from being heavily work-oriented and start living with more balance. The biggest balance is how and where you put your focus, which is something you learn with age. People talk of ‘living in the moment’, but I don’t think you can just be all about today. You might play so hard you lose your health, or spend all your money and have nothing to carry you forward. My flossing routine, for example, is very much about my ‘thought for tomorrow’ – it’s not going to work to live in the now there because if I don’t floss I might lose my teeth (and nothing ages you more than having no teeth!). But you can’t put off things until tomorrow either. The thing is to know what to do and when.
For me, work isn’t a burden – it’s fun. I don’t need to do it, but it is my passion, and passion is life. I don’t believe in retirement, as such. The word ‘retired’ is all wrong for a start, especially as an idea of withdrawing. But change at certain points in your life is healthy. As I grew older – and especially after my health scare – I altered my approach to work. Now I only work with people I like and doing things I like. I have to enjoy the journey, and put my energy into all the important areas of my life.
Of course, if I am honest, I still take on too much; there are so many interesting things to experience. And then there are too many emails, too much stimulation and my wife gets annoyed. I still haven’t got it right. But knowing I have limits is actually a positive thing. You really can’t see everyone, read every book or do everything. That is the folly of youth. Getting older means becoming more discriminating on how I spend my time.
I always say it is so much better being older – perhaps not physically, but mentally, as all the anguish and the worry about nothing becomes irrelevant. And knowing your limitations also means becoming comfortable – not lacking in ambition for yourself, but accepting you aren’t the best at certain things, as much as you might once have wished you were. It gives you a certain peace and perspective.
Paradoxically, it seems that the less comfortable you become in the world, with the aches and pains of being older, the more comfortable you become in yourself. You stop comparing yourself or your progress with others. Because, ultimately, you know that if you are fully engaged with your life and those in it – and at least trying to live in balance – you are definitely at the right point in your life…whatever age you are.