Getting Older Requires Us to Find Our Own Meaning. Here’s How…
Do you ever ask yourself why we get older? Why do we continue to live for decades after our “productive” years end?
As our bodies lose their physical strength and mental sharpness, why do we continue? These are fascinating questions and, as we will discover, they get at the essence of what it means to find meaning in life after 60.
In Our Youth, Meaning is Thrust Upon Us
When we are young, we feel pressure to find our place in the world. After all, childhood is a time for maximizing our potential, learning, discovering, creating and moving forward. So, facing pressure from our parents, teachers, friends and other social contacts, we build our unique personality and begin the process of acquiring life experience.
Heading the call of their genes, many women are pulled by invisible forces to create life. For those of us who choose this path, the next 40 years becomes a tangle of relationships, personal discovery and growth. Even women who don’t have kids spend the majority of their adult lives defining themselves in comparison to others. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We are just social creatures.
Then, We Reach Our 60s and the Questions Begin
Then we reach our 60s and find ourselves asking, “What’s next?” Old age isn’t what it used to be. There was a time when reaching your 60th birthday was a signal that you were “on the way out.” Now, those of us in our 60s have decades to live. Decades. Think about that word for a second. Can you remember where you were 2 or 3 decades ago and how much has changed in your life since then?
20 years. 240 months. 7,300 days. That’s how much you probably have to live – at a minimum. That’s a lot of time to live without a sense of purpose.
What choices can we make now, in our 60s, to leave a beautiful legacy for the world? What decisions will lead us to find happiness after 60? Who do we want in our lives and why? How can we avoid the trap of chasing our youth, in a youth-obsessed culture? These are the questions that we face as we try to find meaning in this new phase of our lives.
Did James Hillman Have a Partial Answer?
I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions lately, especially as I continue to have conversations with the other wonderful women in our community. My own personal journey has sent me back in time, reading books, old and new.
One author, who helped me on my own journey, was James Hillman. He was a psychologist, who examined many of the questions that we struggle with as we get a little older. In his 80s, he wrote a book called “The Force of Character and the Lasting Life.”
In his book, Hillman argues that the real reason we age is to develop our character. Aging, in his opinion, allows us to reveal the wisdom of the bodies and minds that we have lived in our entire lives. In seven words, he says that “character needs age to reveal its wisdom.”
He goes on to say that older people carry “society’s cultural memory and traditions.” He believes that aging can free us from conformity and lead to true transformation.
Personally, I think this is why so many women push back against the concept of aging “gracefully.” For many of us, the word “gracefully” does not describe our inner being, their personality and identity. It says that we should accept our place and be quiet participants in life. We should make room.
Most women in the Sixty and Me community say that getting older is an opportunity to shine. We see more women embracing bold styles, instead of black, formless dresses. Regardless of whether you “like” their style or think that it would look good on you, you have to admire their tenacity. They are fighting back against the “rules” for older women and embracing their bohemian, rebellious selves.
Our second lives are not just defined by fashion. Many women over 60 that I know are going back to university, starting companies and getting in the best shape of their lives. These women are living proof that meaning is something that you make, not find.
Are Our Aging Bodies Our Friends or Our Foes?
Hillman says that the physical ailments of old age can be our friends. He talks about our shifting sleep patterns and says that we should embrace the moments when we are alone in bed, perhaps feeling a little afraid.
To him, broken sleep is a message from our dark side, helping us to manage our fears, bad decisions, mistakes and sadness. We need to deal with the good and bad in our lives to become whole people.
So the next time you wake up in the middle of the night and feel panic setting in, try to embrace your fears as learning tools. They are here to help you find your true characters. As Hillman says, “Let the long hours of the night become a rich resource for deepening wisdom. It is a gift that sharpens and deepens your character.”
Another example of Hillman’s unconventional perspective on aging is the way in which he looks at memory loss. To be clear, I think that he is talking about the everyday forgetfulness that we experience as we get a little older, not the devastating diseases that fall under the category of dementia.
He says that there is no denying that the aging process takes a toll on our memories. We often find ourselves asking silly questions like, “Where are my glasses?” and “Why am I in this room.” In reality, he suggests, we are using our long-term memory to perform the important psychological work of reviewing and sorting through our lives.
Go Ahead and Be Your Wonderful, Quirky, Eccentric Self
Character is enriched by imagination, so, don’t be afraid to explore your passions after 60. Embrace your sexuality. Don’t be afraid of being a little quirky. Find your own style. Just be yourself.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that we each have a role to play in society, no matter our age. We all have a “need to be needed.” We have lived amazing lives and have so much to share.
We can be an inspiration to young people through our work as mentors, grandmas and role-models. We can offer our own, hard-earned, perspectives on love, loss, jealousy, greed, forgiveness and friendship. We can continue to be productive, in our own ways, and enrich the world with our skills and experiences. This is what we can offer the world – our beautiful, important, self-actualized selves.
I am so excited to be able to share this journey through life after 60 with you, the amazing women in the Sixty and Me community. Every day, I learn from you. I hope that we can help each other to find meaning in this important phase of our lives. We deserve to find every happiness that life has to offer. Or, perhaps more accurately, we have the right to search for, and hopefully find, our own special happiness.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think are the secrets to finding meaning in life after 60? Why do you think we continue to live past our “productive” years? What is the point of it all? Please join the conversation and “like” and share this article to keep the conversation going.