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Mental Health

The definition of “getting old”

It dawned on me the other day that the definition of “getting old” is quite forced on us by society’s needs and standards more than what it actually is. Unsurprisingly. Countless memes on being old are associated with doing less work, feeling more tired, needing more sleep, going to bed early instead of partying or taking more pills to feel healthy (at least). Most of these memes answer to what society expects us to do when we are still young: partying, socializing and working hard for your future.

That’s all good and nice as long as you can. If you can juggle all of these society’s requirements without feeling exhausted or having to cut time away from one, great, congratulations. I bet an increasing number of people can’t though, or manage less and less well. Some may have altogether given up on managing all these tasks at the same time and prioritized one or two over the others.

Is this what it means to “getting old”? Or is it something else?

What does “getting old” mean?

Firstly, there’s a physical and psychological aspect in getting old. Obviously you have limited control on your body performances. If at 20 you were able to do a full hour at the gym and then party with friends for hours immediately afterwards and at 35 you just want to sleep after working out, then your body isn’t as performing as before. Which is totally normal. Your body aged, more or less as fast as anybody else’s, and it reflects on what you can and cannot do anymore. You may say you “got old” and you can’t keep up with youngsters anymore.

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

In this case there’s not that much you can do apart from checking your health, trying to be as healthy as possible in what you eat and do and take good care of yourself. That will mitigate your body getting old but not totally remove it. Unavoidable.

That’s obvious but it was worth separating what comes from your body limits and what not. Sport, working out, coping with hangover’s consequences, digesting heavy food and so on all pertain to your body capabilities and there’s not that much you can do.

What’s more important is addressing what is not related to your body aging. Having less desire to socialize, declining more invitations from friends, needing to sleep longer, being unable to work overtime as often as before and so on are only partially related to your body aging and more to yourself, psychologically and emotionally, “getting old”. These are aspects you can have a greater influence over by understanding and reassessing your needs.

And here comes the definition of “getting old” that dawned on me recently: what of the things you used to do a few years ago and cannot or not feel like to anymore are what you truly want to do still? Did you got old or simply lost motivation towards one of your habits? Did your priorities change and made you focus more on other things in your life instead of what you used to?

It’s easy to assume everybody here has answered at least to one of these questions with a clear “yes“. It’s totally normal. Yet society tends to make fun of relatively young people that aren’t able to keep up with friends as good as before, shun social interactions, prefer to take evenings to chill instead of keep working, are more into their families and less into their projects and more meme-materials. That’s because for society “getting old” means not to adhere to the standards imposed on us by media, culture and education (be it from school or family). We are expected to work hard, have plenty of friends, some hobbies and spending all our waking hours working, having fun, studying or meeting people. If you were able to do all this at the same time and can’t anymore, sorry, society tells you you’re “old“. You are meme material and can be made fun of.

That’s far from being nice.

We should give our meaning to what means aging, not society

Perhaps you truly want to keep up with friends and being tired all the time is making it impossible. Perhaps you do want to spend more time working on your projects or with your partner but your body simply calls you to go to bed at 10pm each night instead.

Maybe you truly want to keep up with the idea that society has of young people and not being able to makes you feel old. Perhaps in this case you can say that you are “getting old” indeed and have to accept this fact about yourself.

But that is true if honestly you believe doing what society expects us to is 100% what you want for yourself too. If that 100% matches your internal beliefs and objectives. I bet most of us wouldn’t agree with it, would say that their needs have changed, that they feel different about their friends (or some of), their job, their partner and/or whatever habit you were greatly involved in when younger. We changed, we matured, we learned more about ourselves as life goes on and it’s only natural that our needs and objectives changed too. We should define them, not society.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Perhaps we truly don’t care about the circle of friends we have and would prefer to work on our projects or study for a career change instead than partying every weekend. Perhaps we are satisfied with our jobs and don’t feel the need to keep working overtime but look instead to relax more every evening. Perhaps we are not interested anymore in keeping up with all the dozens of tv series coming out every month but are more into reading books and letting our minds wander. Or we just learned that doing nothing sometimes is good for us.

Would any of these make us “old“? Contrarily to what society would think, I’d say a resounding no. As long as we are going into a direction we want, we are doing something that is challenging or teaching for us and not rest on one’s laurels, then no, we are not old, we are still young, just doing different things than before. But still doing. Perhaps doing even more because with experience comes working smarter and not harder. Perhaps we are even more “performing” than before, despite being years older. We may not feel like being more productive but perhaps we have been without noticing.

That applies whether we have 24 or 34 or 44 years. Getting old is not related to age, with the exclusion of what our bodies can do of course. It is more related to us not being interested anymore, in not challenging ourselves, in not feeling excited about anything anymore, in not being willing to change and risk something for a better future. As long as we have still the attitude and strength to push ourselves forward, we are not old. Not at all. We would still be young, still vital, no matter our actual age.

Society shouldn’t dictate our priorities, and neither what it means “getting old” for us. We should.

Cover Photo by Craig Dennis from Pexels

Neapolitan programmer, traveller and metalhead, co-author of PaperSounds blog.

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