The problem with aging stereotypes is that they can become self-fulfilling prophesies. When we see example after example in movies and on TV of older people getting grumpy, boring and disconnected from the world in their later years, we start to believe that this is “normal.”

Today, I came across an interesting analogy by Jane Fonda. I haven’t read her book, “Prime Time,” yet, but, the idea stuck out enough that I want to mention it here.

The Arch and the Staircase

Fonda argues that the old way of looking at aging is like an arch. From this perspective, we are born, reach a peak and then fall into decline. It’s a depressing idea, but, if you think about it, most of the world still looks at aging this way. The alternative, argues Fonda, is to think of aging like a staircase. From this perspective, we have the potential to grow and learn at every stage in our lives. No stage is more valuable than another.

I completely agree with this idea, but, I would add that the word “potential” is critically important. More than any other phase of our lives, life after 50 presents us with choices. We can choose to sit in front of the TV, or we can get out into the world. We can dedicate ourselves to lifelong learning, or we can become comfortable in our opinions.

It is all too easy to embrace an “arch mentality,” especially when this is what the world expects of us. Turning an arch into a staircase requires work. Every walk taken, passion explored and friend made adds a brick to our new staircase.

Let’s commit ourselves to building staircases, not arches, in the years ahead. Let’s show the world that everything it thinks about aging is wrong. Let’s show the world what we can really do.

Have you read Jane Fonda’s book, Prime Time? What did you think? Do you agree that we have a choice to make between following an “arch” or a “staircase” course in our lives? What do you think are the worst aging stereotypes? Please join the conversation.

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