When I was young, I, like most people, dreaded the idea of being old. My experience with old was visiting my paternal grandmother, who lived her last years (until 102) curled up in a fetal position in a nursing home, unable or unwilling to carry on a conversation, nor to take care of herself in any way.
Now, considered "old" by that young self that I once was, I feel young, vibrant, always learning, challenging myself to encounter new things in any domain I experience.
What happened in those intervening decades?
We've had a longevity revolution. A wholly new age between adulthood and old age. True, my grandmother lived a very long life. But, she was always old, in my mind, even when she was my age now. Her life was static; her beliefs and ways of operating in the world were probably no different from the way they were in her 40's when she experienced massive disruption as a Jew in Vienna.
Jane Fonda gives an inspirational TEDxWomen talk where she creates a new metaphor for aging. Rather than seeing age as an arch, peaking in mid-life and then dipping into decrepitude, she prefers to use the metaphor of a staircase. A staircase ascends into infinity, where the human spirit continues to grow and thrive.
Sixty-six percent of what determines whether we will age well is under our control, research tells us; the other 33.3% has to do with our genetic inheritance. So, we have the power to make our "Third Age," the term often applied to people over age 50, as jubilant as we want it to be.
Fonda says we now have the freedom to choose how to respond to life as we encounter it, to determine what meaning we attach to any particular experience. As we do so in ways different from how we may have done when younger, we create new neural pathways in our brains, a process that increases brain power, rather than diminishes it.
What will you do today to choose growth and thriving, rather than mental and physical decrepitude?