I’ve experienced quite a few undignified things as I’ve gotten older. I’ve hurt my back while sneezing. I’ve been invited to check out a new assisted living center and meet “vibrant seniors” my age. I’ve struggled to keep my hands in my pockets so I don’t choke the neck of the X-ray tech who said, “I won’t ask you if you’re pregnant because hahaha yeah right.” You know it’s hard out here for a 50-year-old.
But despite the sting of the indignities, my ego is doing just fine because there’s something else that comes along with age and it’s pretty damn great. I have become a Know-It-All.
By that I don’t mean I’ve gotten smarter. No, I still yell, “What is Hercules!” at all of the bible category questions when I watch Jeopardy! It’s just that I now know enough about life to give advice to younger people. Mostly unsolicited advice, if I’m being honest. Like last week when I said “Excuse me” while passing a woman in a store and she immediately gasped, “Sorry!” I stopped, turned around, and told her there was absolutely no reason for her to apologize because she has a right to exist. Even in Nordstrom’s. Then I suggested she take the word “sorry” out of her vocabulary, and also not buy the poly/cotton blend sweater she was holding because god knows those things never look good after the first wash.
It occurs to me that being a Know-It-All might also mean I’m super obnoxious.
But here’s something else that happens when you get older: you no longer give a shit about what people think of you. I know I certainly don’t. And this not worrying about saying or doing the right thing all of the time is unbelievably liberating. Freeing. With each passing year, I feel lighter and I’m not even going to turn that into a Weight Watchers joke because it’s true. I wish I’d had this confidence twenty years ago.
Which brings me to a discussion about this very topic I recently had at a dinner hosted by my friend Meredith Walker, Executive Director of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and Karen Chong, Director of Audience & Influencer Engagement at AARP. The topic that evening was “Mentoring the Next Generation” and the question was how can we best impart our experience and knowledge to youngsters while also taking away the stigma of aging. The twenty Austin women gathered, women accomplished in the worlds of art, music, film, politics and business, definitely had a lot of good insight and not just because we also had a lot of good wine on the table. (That’s another thing I’ve become a know-it-all about. Wine. Okay, not really, but I did recently turn down a glass of $3 white zinfandel.)
My friend Meredith has been a favorite person of mine for many years, and one of the reasons why is because she has devoted her career to mentoring. Through her work, she’s realized the impact that an older woman can have on a girl’s future. As she puts it, “We need to reach down and help those growing up.” She believes that mentoring is a responsibility for all of us, whether we’re parents, teachers, coaches or the weird woman in a store who has strong opinions on fabric. It’s just the right thing to do.
Of course, if we want to encourage this shared wisdom between young and old generations, we have to first take away the stigma of aging. We have to make people my age realize how valuable our knowledge is and feel good about sharing it. After all, how does it help the world if you know great ways to negotiate a raise, but keep them to yourself? Tell the women in your office. Tell the women in your family. Tell me because I have my eye on a sweet new convertible. But just think of how much you would have loved to have someone’s insight when you were younger. “Be the person you hoped you’d be,” as Meredith says.
And if you’re a younger woman and someone older offers you advice? Listen. Listen because they’ve already been on your path and know where all of the potholes and wrong turns lie. Yes, it’s easy to dismiss a woman 40+ because she may be a little gray, a little wrinkled and she thinks “Rihanna” is pronounced “Rye-hawn-ah” (an honest mistake). But don’t dismiss these people because doing that isn’t good for anyone. Thinking older women aren’t relevant is called “ageism” and that’s a total jerk move even Ryehawnah wouldn’t make.
Karen Chong, Director of Audience & Influencer Engagement at AARP, told us at the dinner that aging stereotypes are insidious, and internalizing them can take seven years off your life. “It’s as bad for you as smoking,” she said while we all silently calculated all of the amazing things we could do in those seven years. So many Netflix binges. “Plus,” she added, “50 isn’t what it used to be. 50 is the midpoint of life and it should be a rite of passage that’s celebrated.” As someone who spent her 50th birthday badly dancing to Prince with a houseful of weirdos I call friends, I wholeheartedly agree.
But no matter how old you are, remember this: Aging is wisdom and it’s a privilege. When someone asks you how old you are, don’t shy away from answering. Tell them the number. Be proud of the number. Spell the number out in freaking firecrackers and light them off with a match you’re holding in your teeth, I don’t care. But own your age. Live your age. Love your age. And then share what you’ve learned at your age with others because it’ll make all of us better people. I really think it will.
See, I told you I was a Know-It-All.
Thank you to DisruptAging for sponsoring this post and for the wonderful dinner. All opinions (and the bottle of wine I stole) are mine.