Today is my birthday, and a milestone birthday at that. Consequently, it has caused me to sit and reflect upon the idea of aging and how it is socially constructed in our society.
Have you ever thought about how one of the first questions we ask young children we meet is often “how old are you?” In essence, we are communicating to some of our society’s youngest members that age is an important part of their identities and how they are viewed.
I admire those who submit to the aging process gracefully. Though, that is much easier said than done. Society, namely media, has wired us to believe that youth is to be coveted and that can lead to feelings of stress or even depression as we progressively age. As products of society, these feelings are completely normal, and even expected. The good news is that aging is inevitable (how ironic). Our friends, relatives, and loved ones are either old, or will be one day. We are not alone and there is much to be learned from those who have aged before us.
Many buy into the idea that they should achieve specific milestones by certain ages (married by 30, children by 35, promotion by 40, retired by 65, etc.). For some this timeline is earlier, or later, and can also go the inverse direction, as life events can sometimes occur before we anticipate. Ultimately, it can be incredibly stressful when the anticipated timeline is not realized.
First, what I challenge clients to consider is what they truly want outside of what they feel they should be doing, or should have by now based on what society or those around them have prescribed. "Should have, would have, could have," talk can be a dangerous path to go down. Eliminating this pressure and judgment can lift a giant weight off of clients' shoulders. Secondly, there is a distressing element of control within the premise of a strict timeline for life. There is nothing wrong with having a plan, but a mindset that functions as a rulebook rather than a framework is a problem.
Life will not fall into place simply because you have reached a certain age. It is also not a good idea to rush something that may not be the best fit, just to check the box. Open up to what life is meant to be, rather than the script you, or outside influences, may have written for it. Life seldom goes the way we plan. When we become rigid in our thinking, we miss amazing opportunities that come our way.
I encourage clients to reframe and make a list of what they are proud of accomplishing in life thus far, as well as what they hope is yet to come. Gratitude is a powerful tool. When we become caught up in the numbers game, we lose sight of the present space we are in and all of its potential.