To recap, 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.
For your age
The other day, my wife charitably offered up an opinion about my appearance. She said, “I think you look good … for your age.” That pretty much says it all. At 50, or thereabouts, there is no more “you look good [period].” There will always be the qualifier. Because, honestly, you don’t just “look good.” You can only look good for your age. Even if unstated, middle-aged adults know the deal. If someone tells you “you look good,” we both know they mean “… for your age.”
Let me say this about my wife. She is a positive thinker on most days and she’s got a pretty hefty investment in my carcass. It’s in her best interests to not feel like she made a terrible life choice and married an experimental mistake. It feels good for both of us for her to say, and possibly believe, that I “look good for my age.”
Another thing to know about my wife is that I can talk about her here because she’s not going to read this. She’s a serious, overly busy professional performing her own juggling act. She doesn’t have time to read my articles — she clicks “Like” on my Facebook page and moves on. Like you should have. What are you doing, wasting your time reading this when you should be doing something important with your life? Tick, tick, tick. Aaaaaaand scene. That was a little glimpse of my new one-man show “Aging and Self-Loathing are the Same,” appearing at no theater near you.
The ascending man
Who doesn’t want to believe they’re getting better as they get on? People who have given up, that’s who. It’s a distasteful thought, so we shunt it away. How do you believe you are ascending at 50?
Clooney warns of becoming irrelevant. I suppose all non-Clooneys (NCs) do at some point. Has anyone in the history of the world exactly nailed the moment of realizing when they became irrelevant at the exact moment they became irrelevant? I suspect not. I strenuously believe our powerful self-delusions of mediocrity (or grandeur) lag behind the way the rest of the world perceives us. We’re all the aging athlete that still thinks he “has a few good years left.” Even though no general manager is willing to hire him/her.
We convince ourselves that we’re still relevant. That’s good. It’s necessary if you want to achieve more. We’re alive so we must strive. But what if we’re not and we haven’t realized it yet? At 50. What if you’ve already peeled back the curtain enough times to see all the indicators? You cannot un-see that at 50.
The way we define happiness changes as we age. Is that because our previous understandings of happiness were wrong, or just because we cannot presently achieve that flavor of happiness, so we veer in a different direction? Our external conditions have changed at 50. We’ll drive ourselves insane if we hold on to the same measures of happiness we held at 40, 30, 22, 15….
So, did you redefine happiness because you wanted to or because you had to?
Back to health
I do try. I exercise. Over the past few years in particular, I’ve made dietary and lifestyle choices to improve my health and appearance. No, men are no less vain and insecure than women. Fortunately, I’ve been moderately successful in maintaining my carcass. The reasons why, though are not so graceful.
The reason why I decided to make more healthy choices in my 40s is simply hatred — hatred of what I was becoming. I hated the aches and pains. Hated the lack of stamina. Hated the lack of focus. Hated the weight gain. Hated the lack of relevance and vitality these human foibles implied. Hated, hated, hated it.
I know I’m not alone in this. A good friend of mine will turn @$#%ing 50 a couple weeks after I will. We met for the first time back in the fourth grade. Early on in our relationship, we had a formative moment, initiated by me.
We were in P.E. class, pushing around low-to-the-ground wooden roller carts for God-knows-why. It was some combination of 1970s exercise and this’ll-keep-‘em-busy activity. I spotted (name redacted because he’s a grown-ass lawyer) and blurted, “Hey! You’ve got rolls!” Meaning, I noticed I was not the only somewhat chubby kid in the class — there was another one like me. We both had flabby little guts hanging over our gym shorts.
In my innocence it was a pure hey-we’re-the-same-I-thought-I-was-the-only-one moment of fourth grade friendship bonding. To him, it was a life-altering revelation. He had no clue up to that point that he was not body-beautiful. His parents had perhaps overshot a tad in building up his self-esteem — until that day in P.E. class.
I shattered that illusion right there. He was devastated, mortified and made aware of something (true though it was) he never wanted to know. You’re welcome, (redacted)! Welcome to self-consciousness town, population: you, me and secretly almost everyone else. Clooneys of the world excepted, of course.
I didn’t know at the time what I had done. He has reminded me of it many times since. I ruined his childhood, I’m told. And his self-esteem from that point on. I’m also responsible whenever he loses his car keys and he still hates me for explaining to him that not all albums are chock full of hit songs, even though you spent your allowance money on them. That’s what friends are for.
So yeah, we’re all vain and insecure. At almost-50, we’re no less so. As it turns out, that battle of the bulge hasn’t gone away for either of us at middle age. If I need to shut him up, all I have to do is blurt, “You got rolls!” It stops him right in his tracks. He’ll laugh, because he gives as much as he takes when it comes to guy humor, but we both know he dies a little inside every time. Me too.
One day closer to Pink Floyd
On the whole, I am very fortunate to have the degree of health I have. I know this. However, it was clear I needed to make changes because aging forced me to realize I was losing ground. I live lactose-free, gluten-free, alcohol-free, spicy food-free, smoking-free, prescription drug-free and cranial hair-free.
No, I’m no damn fun at all. Again, be honest. Does my “-free” lifestyle sound like fun to you? But these choices (except for the @$%*ing cranial hair) are about making the happiest and healthiest me I can be. In my war against aging, I’m Debbie Downer. Here’s where a little less self-reflection might actually be a good thing. But that’s not gonna happen. There’s a case to be made that I wasn’t any damn fun before I got old, but I’m not offering any real estate in this article to those voices. So nyeah.
My health is good. And according to the one person whose opinion matters the most (except for the voices in my head), I’m looking pretty good for my age. Just to be safe, though, I won’t be standing next to George Clooney anytime ever. At 50, your best choice is to quit while you’re behind.
Comparison is the death of joy. Famously said by Mark Twain, it is undeniably true. The problem with turning 50 is that you have much to compare yourself to. It’s also a very tidy number. It rolls off the tongue. It is exactly one half of 100. It implies a halfway point of some kind. Until you start really thinking about it. Most of us don’t reach 100, so any notion of “being halfway there, baby” at 50 is quickly exposed as “you’re late!”
Let’s wrap this up on a positive note. C.S. Lewis wrote, “You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream another dream.” I believe that. It’s ammo for not getting too worked up about turning 50. On the flip side, Lewis never had to compare himself to George #*&^ing Clooney.
Go on. Turn 50, all you NCs. I dare you. And if you already turned 50 and survived it, tell me how. Was it denial? I bet it was denial. I can do denial.
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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