serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

Avoiding Decline

Posted by Jim Selman on 11/16/06

I bumped into an old friend and financial planner/insurance salesman at a party last night. Bemoaning that more than 60% of the Boomers don’t have a ‘plan’ for their retirement years, he was suggesting we’re not being responsible for the inevitable downward spiral that awaits us. He was proud (and a little smug) that he was still ‘very fit’ and runs marathons. His commitment to health and financial planning are admirable, and yet it was obvious that his whole life strategy (as well as the basis for his business) was framed in a negative context of ‘avoiding bad things in the future’, all of which are ‘inevitable’.

This view of aging and old age as a period in our lives to be feared and avoided and defended against inspires me to write. Decline in old age is not inevitable. There are too many examples of vital, happy, contributing, productive, engaged, passionate and purposeful people at every age to accept the idea that age is inherently the ‘cause’ of late-life problems. Yet our culture insists that age is a negative circumstance that happens to us and that our only choice is to cope well with that fact.

Most of the negative images we have of growing older have to do with losing our ability to function, including everything from loss of mobility to something as devastating as dementia. The possibility of losing the capacity to function in later years affects how many relate to their future and colors their attitudes and moods around the whole subject. It is true that dementia is an awful condition, but so are dozens of other tragic diseases that we’ve witnessed all our life, but which we don’t associate with our age or how we relate to the future. We make our choices, hopefully wise ones, and live our lives as fully as possible.

This cultural bias of painting older age as something to ‘not think about’, as something to resist or avoid, becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. We end up getting what we expect. The alternative is to invent and commit ourselves to a different possibility, one where we expect life to get better as we age. The ‘bad’ things can be viewed as exceptions rather than the rule.

The future is a process, not a destination. It is our choice how we choose to relate to the circumstances of our life, including our age.

I think of age as the scoreboard, not as a constraint. The result is that I am able to grow older in a positive context—a context in which the future is always a bigger possibility and the only questions for guiding my choices are what do I want to do with my time in future years and what do I wish to contribute.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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