I was chatting with some of my younger colleagues the other day and they were discussing aging. As a bunch of 20-somethings, for them, getting closer to 30 is terrifying and strange. All those bewildering social expectations – marriage, babies, savings, mortgages, and careers. Plus the general horror of ‘getting old’. But you know, I’m over 30. Plus about 3. And for the most part, it’s not very different than being in my twenties. In fact, there are even some things that get better as you get older.
You stop caring as much about what other people think about you. I have always had pretty bad social anxiety, which I've poorly managed in the past by trying being as amenable, neutral or helpful to others as possible. For years I had a weird version of the Ella Enchanted curse where I couldn't say no. What, you need me to look after your Schiztu and give it daily baths while you’re away? Sure. You want me to write your thesis for you? Fine. Need me to expend all my emotional energy holding you together? Ok! But it’s gotten a lot easier to say no. Aint no body got time fo' dat. If you really need me, and you’re worth it, sure. But I gotta look after me too.
You become more confident in what you know you can do and less apologetic or uncertain. The idea of taking charge in a group without being explicitly ordered to used to be absolutely foreign to me. But now, if no one else knows how to do it better, then I’ll do it. No prob. I've also been much better able to toot my own horn when needed and fight for my rights (though I’ll give myself a stress stomachache for doing it). I aint The Shit, but I’m not shit either.
You do actually know stuff, instead of trying to find your way in the dark. Wisdom. Yep, it’s real. Seriously, my brain shocks me with the stuff it’s filed away and offers up (usually) at the right time. Yes, I DO know how to make profiteroles. You want me to analyze your business plan, no prob. I can also sew and paint. You pick things up when you've been kicking around the planet for eons as I have. :P
You aren't as fussed about your looks. That crooked nose you've hated all your life is still there and hasn't resulted in an angry mob at your doorstep to burn the monster that you are. These imperfections have been with you longer than many dubious friends and often have caused less harm. You still aren't that ideal weight the magazines tell you to be, but somehow, meh. It’s ok. You've learned how to dress the body you have, not the body you've tried starving and punishing yourself into. Sure, there are wrinkles and white hair, but the good thing is, your eyesight isn't as sharp as it used to be either, so as long as you don’t look too hard, you look awright.
You figure out better uses of your time and energy. I am pretty sure 25-year-old Zee would be horrified with what I wear to work – basic skirts, blouses, simple scarf, flat shoes, and just a lick of make-up. It takes me 15 minutes from when I wake up to when I roll out. Why? Cuz it’s a job, not a fashion show, and I got nothing to prove. Plus, I like to sleep and waking up 30 minutes early to plan a cool outfit isn't worth my time.
You’re no longer obsessed with 'defining' yourself. In my twenties, it feels like I spent half my time taking stupid quizzes and psychometric tests. I seemed to mostly be doing things to prove a point to God knows who. I was so consumed with trying to figure out who and what I was. I was constantly trying to find ‘my measure’ – to figure out how other people saw me, and what it meant. Now, I dunno, I've just accepted that I’m just me. A tangled ball of experiences, neurosis, ideals and instruction. Nearly impossible to sort out so best to just let it be. I’m a mess, but everyone is.
You have a ton of stories. Ok, the advantage of this is debatable. If you're not careful, you can sound like a 'topper' - or a compulsive liar, or just a windbag. But used with caution, they're good for parties and smalltalk. I can regale you with stories of food poisoning in exotic places, dodging howler monkey poop in rainforests, and various run-ins, nearly literally, with some heads of state. Living means trying stuff and sometimes failing, and hopefully with some maturity, you can find and share the funny.
So yeah, being 'old' isn't so bad. Don't sweat it kids. :)