I’ve always been terrified of losing the things I often associated with ‘youth’. Uncynical enthusiasm. Romance and passion. Confidence. Moral clarity and standing up for the things I believed in. I guarded these attributes fiercely, fighting impulses, ideas, and people whom I thought were trying to take these from me. If someone told me that life gets better with age, I would have balked at the idea.
My general feeling had been that the older adults I knew had somehow ‘given in’ to the pressures of age, responsibility and laziness, and it was my mission not to succumb to the same weakness.
Coming of Age
I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain a few years back and made fast friends with a woman four years older than me. To a 23 year old, that’s significant. Over wine one night, I sensed the opportunity to learn something. I gathered myself and asked “What do you think about getting older?”
She paused very briefly and smiled. “I love it.”
Astonished, I quickly replied “Why?”
She smiled wider. “The older I get, the more I do things I want to do and the less I do things I don’t want to do.”
I was struck. All of a sudden, the framework I’d been leaning on fell to the ground. Of course she was right. I saw the things I’d counted as essential to keeping myself from becoming a boring sad-sack adult in a totally new frame.
The uncynical enthusiasm I worshipped was actually a lack of focus. Romance and passion was actually a combination of ego-stroking and following shallow feelings rather than deep ones. The confidence I thought I had was built on the false premise that I knew how the world worked and had little to learn. And my moral clarity was really me following the feelings certain ideas gave me and holding them tightly to align them with the identity I was trying to create.
The youth that I was so afraid to lose can be summed up as impulse and inexperience. The more things I’ve done and experiences I’ve had since then have cemented that age brings the ability to control things which brings a more steady and solid kind of happiness. Control over my focus and skills gives me control over my finances and non-working life, which gives me more control on all the other things that might fall to the wayside when work, money, or relationships end up out of your control.
When designed properly, age brings mastery, and by all measures that means life gets better with age. And there’s not much more satisfying than that.