A fairly well-known member of the Baby Boomer generation, George Clooney, was recently quoted in The Daily Beast regarding his thoughts on aging.
“Turning 50, he said, ‘wasn’t a big year,’ although it marked an acceptance of becoming ‘a character actor. If you don’t, the audience you’re desperate to hold on to will go ‘This is silly.’ If you fall in love with the idea of how you were in 1998 you will be greatly disappointed by how you are [now].’”
He’s right. I must resign myself to being a character actor. I turn 50 next month.
Unfortunately, becoming a character actor would be a major step forward in terms of actually achieving something. As a non-Clooney “regular guy,” with none of the cachet of being a celebrated, internationally famous celebrity/activist, turning 50 is actually a big year. A man cannot turn 50 and not evaluate what the hell he has come to at this point in his half-century of life.
This is the article I’ve never wanted to write.
I don’t want to think about turning 50. I don’t want to turn 50. I don’t want to see the old man in the mirror. I try not to as much as possible. Ah, youth. I am enchanted and enthralled when I look at my beautiful young daughter. I, like many, am captivated by her youthful beauty and vitality. She’s small enough that I often carry her around and steal the hugs and kisses she freely gives. Sometimes, I sneak a peek in the mirror while we’re together. When I’m holding her, I forget about my decaying carcass. When the mirror frames the two of us, the distinction is horrifying.
I wonder why she doesn’t recoil with the same horror I experience. I suspect the rest of our youth-obsessed world recoils at my aged countenance — partially explaining the resistance I so often perceive. To be fair, there is an abiding, palpable love between my daughter and I, which masks many a flaw. There is a thick veneer of wool between her eyes and my face.
But the world is not made up of adoring daughters. What’s more, she will get less adoring as time marches on. One day, much sooner than I can stand, she will hear the Beatles, Elton John, the Eagles and other songs I play for her secretly on my guitar, when it’s just us two. She’ll hear the real versions. She’ll say, “Dad, who are these people playing your songs way better than you do?” The fraud will then be fully exposed.
And then, when she learns about royalties, and how I get none of them, her opinion will sink even lower.
Hey mister, can we have our ball back?
Nobody wants an old man — or an old woman, for that matter. Whether man or woman, “old” is not a positive qualifier. At 50, you have to fight to assert your relevance every day. Maybe that’s a good thing. We must strive to live every day because our time is limited. Aging forces you to confront issues you otherwise would not want to confront: health, ethics, morals, learning, growth, legacies, etc. When you turn a milestone age like @#&^ing 50, you would have to be the most blissfully shallow and unexamined person ever to not take stock of where you’re at in life.
On the precipice of 50 I may be many half-assed, unrealized things, but unself-reflective I’m not. I’ve given it a lot of thought. Too much thought. Turning 50 is going to make me a better person, right? Anyone?
Before all this happened
Clooney cautions to not put your 1998 self on a pedestal. Well, I hate my 1998 self as much or more than I dislike my 2014 version. If only because if I were better self-actualized then, I’d be better off now. Be honest. Conjure up who you were in 1998. Do you wish you were that person now? Unless you were a headlining movie- or rock star back then, I seriously doubt it. You better be dressing differently now, at the very least.
You may think I’m too harsh. Fine. But you’re not the one turning 50, are you? Who do you think you are, George Clooney?
By the time one turns 50, you’re supposed to have a lot of shit figured out, right? Can somebody please tell me it’s OK to not know anything at the age of #$*&ing 50? That’s not a rhetorical question. I could use the reassurance if you can spare any. Isn’t the expectation that by 50 you’ve long ago hit your stride? I strongly suspect it is, when I look at how other lives are portrayed in the media and that other show called “real life.”
Let’s see how many are with me. I bet I know the answer, but I’m willing to find out.
What if you’re not just the man or woman who doesn’t like what he/she sees in the mirror? What if you sometimes look at your spouse and think, “I can’t believe I have a wife (or husband).” … Or kids, or a mortgage or a chance to do something extraordinary if I can just figure out how to get out of my own way again today? That kind of self-talk can happen at any age, to a point. It’s not supposed to still be happening when you’re 50. Right?
Fifty is the new … I’ll kill you
Don’t say “50 is the new 40.” I will split your body in two. I’ll kill one half of you now and then save the rest for later for when I need a pick-me-up. Because it’s not. 50-year-olds can do math. We know that 50 is approximately a full decade older than 40.
Also, turning 40 sucked too. Absolutely, it did. Many happiness indexes and polls show a sharp decline in perceived happiness when you’re in your 40s. Fifty is not going to be better. By my calculations, it will be about 20 percent worse than turning 40. Because at 50, you’re a character actor in your own life story. Even Clooney knows it.
So does science: A recent article published in Britain’s the Daily Mail reveals that people in their 40s and 50s suffer the most. Cheers, mate! Yet it’s not just the Brits that are especially stressed out, if you’re wondering. According to Time’s 2013 Happiness Poll, all Americans are less happy overall than we were just two years ago. Based on studies published in the Economist, Americans can expect to endure less stress as they age (yay!). That doesn’t start until mid-50s or later, (ugh) so I’m about 2/3 of the way through the statistically pronounced happiness slump. (Age 46 is the worst, statistically speaking). I shouldn’t worry about 50 so much as I should just hope to hold on until 55.
Then everything’ll be alright. Right? Um, uh, no. According to a 2013 study conducted by Princeton University and published in the New York Daily News, “For most, life hits a slump during the mid-50s.” Their study suggests we don’t get happy again until our late 60s. SonofaClooney!
Again, I don’t know anything. I’m almost 50 and I know nothing. For those of you that read this far, you probably fall into one of two camps:
- STFU, you whiny dipshit.
- George Clooney should give you a hug.
Both camps would be right. I’ve received and self-administered both doses of medicine many times over my half century of activity-resembling-a-life. I’m a classic Baby Boomer / Generation X tweener: born in 1964, so am astride each generation’s ass-end of the spectrum. I idolize Vince Lombardi, yet I’m quite certain he and I would quickly come to fisticuffs if ever in the same room to air out our life philosophies.
For the regular folks, or non-Clooneys (NCs), life at 50 is less about slaying dragons and more about remaining relevant. Here’s a Clooney-ism I can get behind, “The easiest way to become irrelevant is to stop. You have to reinvent yourself.” That is probably never been truer, with the way the U.S. economy trundles on. I may complain. I may trepidate. But I’m not going to stop … trying to get better, that is. Not complain. Well, I’ll do that too.
In fact, AARP believes that more Baby Boomers are choosing to take their years of experience and turn it into entrepreneurial efforts. They are reinventing themselves. Sounds good, right? The notion has appeal, but the article does sidestep the dirty, dark secret of many: this trend is born less of choice and more of necessity as Boomers get shoved aside.
Indeed, some may be hanging out their own shingle purely out of their own volition. These people are George Clooney. Many millions of others are doing so out of desperate need: to remain relevant; to remain fed, clothed and housed. Age bias aside, the economy is shrinking for oh, about 99% of us.
If you ain’t young and pretty, you better be really damn good at what you do. Anyone want to argue with that? If you are really damn good at what you do AND young AND pretty, well, you’re George Clooney, circa 1998.
I don’t know about you but I wasn’t George Clooney then, and I’m even less Clooney-esque now. And I’m almost 50.
Still not done. Part II of “I’m turning 50: Can someone please talk me out of it?” will appear on Monday, February 24 on WiseTribe.
Julian Rogers is a writer, editor, community manager and marketing communications consultant for high-achieving businesses. He is the senior communications consultant for Juju Eye Communications. Find out what he’s thinking about on his blog: mrturophile.com, or connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
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