Growing old is a privilege. At least that’s what books on self-love, self-confidence and self-realization say. Aging in itself is therefore a completely legitimate affair, which actually only has positive sides to it. And yet, growing old with dignity is a whole other thing. Because the small, well-hidden “actually” is in truth much bigger. Even though we vehemently want to defend ourselves against it, self-doubt cannot be completely dispelled in the end. And then we suddenly realize that we don’t face aging as unaffectedly as we had hoped. We notice how, year after year, we become more and more nervous when the number behind our age grows and grows. But why is so much meaning, so much expressiveness about one’s own self ascribed to a number in the first place? And how can we manage to see age for what it really is: just a number – no more and no less?
Age as an expression of social entitlement
We live in a society that places certain demands on the life plans of its members starting at birth. A society that is supported by the fact that we know our place as soon as possible and whose expectations we are at the mercy of when we reach adulthood at the latest. The problem is, however: Who among us really knew where they belonged in his early 20s? Who among us could predict at the age of 20 in which direction their own life plan would develop? In most cases, reality is quite different. In fact, in our early twenties, we have an idea about where we want to live, which job could be the right one, when we want to think about steady partnerships, family planning, condos or building a house. In reality, however, these ideas are only vague visions of the future, which are made up of social expectations and our own demands for a fulfilled life. Instead, the twenties are marked by doubts about our desires and goals, about decisions, about our own identity.
❞ Who among us really knew where they belonged in his early 20s? ❝
A lifetime of learning
In a recent ZEITMagazin article, the author wrote that being young is both the most beautiful and the most terrible thing. And it’s true. We likely never felt as un-encumbered, as untied-down, as naive and as free as we did in our twenties. But why were we only allowed to enjoy our freedom and make mistakes in our twenties? Why did we always feel like we had lost our light-heartedness when our twenties ended? As if the 30th birthday at the latest was the last chance to finally grow up and become responsible. Perhaps it is society, perhaps our environment, or perhaps it is ourselves who suggest to us that the clock is ticking, that we should slowly really know what matters to us in life. And hence the result is that we spend less time on childish games, year after year, but more time on making profound and far-reaching decisions. Suddenly, questions emerge as to how we can balance a career and a family, and despite having children, how to work on careers we painstakingly built over the past years. In our early 40s, we no longer deal with the same topics as in the twenties. And that is totally fine. We continue to learn throughout our lives and find out how to master the different challenges of life (and its different stages). After all, the saying is that wisdom only comes with age. We learn not to take certain things as seriously anymore – things that would have driven us up the wall in our early twenties. We learn to occasionally put our own needs behind those of our partner or children in order to pursue theirs. But we also learn that it is important to put yourself first from time to time – without neglecting your job or social contacts. We learn to trust our gut and sometimes simply take the leap – leaving the voice of reason, which now echoes louder than ever, behind.
What really matters
Many people say that their twenties were their best years. We don’t believe that is true. Secretly, it’s the forties, the fifties, even the sixties. Why? Because we know of things we didn’t know when we were young. Because we have made more experiences than we could ever have dreamed of. And because we have made mistakes that we got to learn from all the more. One thing that ultimately only old age can provide us with: the ability to let go of our own expectations. No more having to look left and right to make sure that we meet the demands of our environment or society. The certainty that life is not about being perfect and not making any mistakes, but that it sometimes takes the youthful lightheartedness of our twenty-year-old self to return to our own dreams. For even if we are now no longer in our twenties, the elementary questions remain: What do we actually want to achieve? What is our purpose here – to simply live or to really accomplish something?
So we should stop cursing the growing number of our age. Instead, let us be thankful to have gotten to know a bit more about ourselves, our wishes and dreams every year. We should be thankful for receiving new opportunities and challenges again and again. And we should be thankful for being allowed to make mistakes. Mistakes, that help us learn and that allow us to develop further. For that is what life is about, after all – it is about learning and growing, further and further, year after year.
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