“Life begins at forty”, or “fifty is the new forty”, or even better, a Victor Hugo quote, “forty is the old age of youth, and fifty the youth of old age.” I do actually quite like this last one – attaching youth to fifty – but why is it that we reach a certain age and these quotes are handed out to us as if there’s a need to console reaching the milestone of midlife with an uplifting quip? That because potentially we have more years behind us than ahead of us we must find a positive spin. The fact that these sayings exist at all seems to feed the notion that it’s all downhill from here but that we really must try to look on the bright side. I get their philosophical intention, but they are irritating. What we should be saying is simply that “fifty is fifty”, because surely life begins at any age? We can choose as many new beginnings as we like.
I wonder if the reason these phrases seem to hold just a tiny element of resonance is not because we’re trying to unearth some sort of gleeful second childhood – we’re definitely not – but because midlife is when change starts to creep in and the fairly even keel we’ve managed to balance for a good twenty odd years starts to falter. Suddenly our hormones are feral, our bodies want to join them, children are taking off, career paths are shifting – the list is endless. And it’s not as if we’re clueless, we know it’s coming, but still it hits us all at once like an unexpected avalanche. Where would we be without the multitasking skills we’ve honed over the years to navigate this?!
Our twenties are about self-discovery and experimenting with who and what we want to be. By the time we reach thirty we’ve made choices and commitments so that, mostly, our forties are defined by the obligations we created. We have reinvented ourselves every step of the way with new beginnings – it isn’t something that’s confined to any specific age – but when responsibilities begin to shift in our fifties, we are right back at that point where self-discovery can be on the table all over again. This is what makes the changes at this stage in our life so much more profound. It’s not that “fifty is the new forty” at all. It’s that these inevitable changes create a space where finally, having spent most of these years putting everyone else first, there is room now for our own self-fulfilment.
To me, this time in our life to reinvent ourselves has to be the most exciting. The statistics for life expectancy stand at 81 years, and that’s just the national average. Frankly I’d like to be going strong well into my nineties! We have so many years ahead of us, and for the first time in a long time it’s about us. Our ambition, passion, values and zest for life haven’t disappeared just because some of our responsibilities have. If anything, they are renewed by a sense of restlessness that this age seems to bring. We have the wisdom of experience, a greater sense of our own value, strength through adversity, determination and, finally, more freedom to realise the limitless possibilities we can explore now, if we choose to.
If we are going to run with the idea that “fifty is the youth of old age” then now is our time and that’s an exhilarating prospect. Challenge is seductive. It motivates and energises us into achievements we couldn’t imagine possible. Except, of course, they are. We can reinvent ourselves at any age, but redefining who we are and what we want to do is a much more unrestrained luxury in our fifties. We’d be foolish not to explore all of the new possibilities that are out there for us – in exactly the same way we wholeheartedly embraced the excitement of stepping out into the world in our twenties.
Grace Fodor – PRO AGE warrior, Beauty Expert & Founder of Studio10. Passionate about challenging outdated stereotypes, anti-ageing and ageism to celebrate age. Providing education on how to apply makeup for older women.