how to grow up gracefully

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The other night, I was watching John Wick on Netflix (the first one). One of the actors in the movie is John Leguizamo, In one scene, Leguizamo’s character is arguing with another character, and while I don’t remember the exact words they were saying, at some point, as Leguizamo was walking away from the other person, and that person yelled something after him, ending with “ … OLD MAN!”

Old man? I quickly looked up John Leguizamo’s age. He’s exactly 3 years older than I am.

Okay, then.

I’m about 6 weeks out from my 52nd birthday — and as I have for every birthday before, I’m really looking forward to it. Honestly, getting older has never bothered me (in fact, I did a whole podcast episode on why we shouldn’t worry about growing older, and instead focus on growing up). But I get why people fixate on it, for reasons not the least of which is “old man” is used as a pejorative in movies for anyone over the age of 45. Bodies change (although, spoiler alert: they’ve been changing all our lives, and never stopped). Society gets weird about our getting older. But as with everything else about self-image, I believe the trick to being cool about growing up (and actually get excited about it) has to do with adjusting your mindset. So with that in mind, here’s my philosophy on how to grow up gracefully:

  1. Repeat after me:

    Younger is not better, it’s just different. Older is not worse, it’s just different.
    Physical changes give character and story.

    Say these over and over until you believe them. Look for evidence in beautiful people who aren’t 20. Like Helen Mirren. And Halle Berry. And George Clooney. And Sophia Loren. And Daniel Dae Kim. And Oprah Winfrey. And Michelle Yeoh. And Salma Hayek. And Denzel Washington. And Cicely Tyson. And Rita Moreno. And John Leguizamo, for that matter. And those are just off the top of my head. There are many, many more.

  2. Change allows for opportunities to discover new things. If you can’t run like you used to in your 20s, then maybe your body is trying to tell you that it’s time to try swimming. If don’t have the 20-20 vision of your youth, then maybe your eyes are trying to tell you that it’s time to look at funky eyewear as fashion accessory (I’m lookin’ at you, Ali Wong). If your body is changing shape or your hair is changing colour, maybe it’s trying to tell you to experiment more with your clothing and your makeup and your look. Remember when you used to experiment with hobbies and fashion and interests as a kid? Remember you stopped? Time to pick that experimentation back up again — because there’s nothing like following your curiosity to make feel energized and excited about your life.

  3. Get out of your head and into your body. One of the gifts of midlife is realizing that for the longest time, I’ve focused on my head — I’ve been getting educated, I’ve been climbing the corporate ladder, and I’ve been worrying about what other people are thinking about me, so that I can change accordingly. (This last one is not one I’m proud of. Don’t ever do that.) All that time, I’ve been able to, in many ways, ignore my body, in favour of my mind. But nowadays, I find myself fascinated by what my body tells me it needs. For example, as someone who doesn’t much enjoy exercise, but who also understands that exercise is becoming more and more important the older I get, I’ve been really tuning in on how my body wants to move, and acting accordingly. The result? I’m moving more than ever, doing things that are fun to do — for me. And I’m not doing them because I’m chasing a certain weight or a certain dress size — I’m doing it because it feels good to be in my body. Which is a whole different, freeing motivation.

  4. Watch what you consume. But wait — for me, this is in no way, shape or form about dieting. In fact, I’ve decided to let dieting go the way of my 20-20 vision, to make room for discovering a new way to consume food. And again, it’s about listening to my body. Checking in with myself when I eat certain foods or drink certain drinks (alcoholic or no) and seeing how they make me feel. And then I adjust accordingly. The result is that lately, no matter what I eat, I’m feeling good — no guilt involved.

  5. Finally, go big. Earlier today, I was talking to a new friend who is about my age, about a special project she’s beginning. The project holds a lot of meaning for her, but no question, it’s a big project. So I asked her why she was taking it on, and she responded: “Look. I have no idea how much time God has planned for me — none of us do — I so figure from here on out, all I’m making are big moves.”

    This is the best part of growing up, actually: understanding the impact that you can have in your community, by using your gifts to help change the world around you. Because nothing is sexier than knowing, to your core, how to make light.

    And that takes experience.

My daughter (age 15), me (age 51) and my mom (I’m not allowed to tell you her age, but it rhymes with “matey”) on Mother’s Day, 2019.

My daughter (age 15), me (age 51) and my mom (I’m not allowed to tell you her age, but it rhymes with “matey”) on Mother’s Day, 2019.