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7 lessons on turning 60

Posted By Ellen Ratner On 08/21/2011 @ 9:00 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled

As I look to beginning my seventh decade (I will be 60 in a week), I thought I would share with you some of my observations about what this means.

Many of us have undergone this transition and nearly 4 million baby boomers are turning 60 in 2011. We all make our peace with it in different ways. I decided to begin GoatsForTheOldGoat.com as a way of poking fun at my own age and raising money for people in South Sudan. There a goat can mean the difference between nutrition and malnutrition for recently liberated slaves from the North. It has been a good way for me personally to cope with the perils of this milestone birthday.

My body is not where it was in my 20s, but my mind is more focused than it was back then. The nicest things about turning 60 are:

1) People’s opinions of you don’t matter. Most of us spend a good part of our social worry time and energy worrying about what people think of us. If someone doesn’t like you, then it feels bad or you try and make sure they like you. Recently, an older relative took off on me for asking him for a contribution that I never requested. Previously I would have written a note, sent a gift and apologized profusely. After responding that it never happened, I just let it go. The relationship will not be the same again. It is what he thinks, and I am not going to be able to change his view. The people I love and who love me are what matters. It’s time to let people like that go and not allow them to live rent free in my head.

2) I don’t have to look at the want ads or career opportunities. Yes, some of us 60-somethings will need to get a new job, but most of us don’t have to worry anymore about what we are going to be or getting retrained and finding a new career. It is what it is. Circumstances and our own choices have made our lives, for better or worse. We may take a new job, but, for most of us, we don’t have the anxiety of deciding to go back to school or worry about getting that next job to advance our careers.

3) Obituaries begin to look interesting, and I read them daily. When you are young, you don’t really pay much attention to them. Now I love to read about people’s lives, muse about how much time I have and think about how much these newly passed-on people have put into their years, not how many years they have had on the planet.

4) “Send me a card.” I used to hear that from older people when I asked them what they wanted for their birthday. That was when I was in my acquiring phase. Now, I realize what a simple act of sending a card can mean. It represents someone taking the time to think of a thought or sentiment, and it is worth a whole lot more than some random object that has either been re-gifted or that I want to regift.

5) The sun coming up takes on new meaning. Each day is a gift, and waking up and seeing a beautiful sunrise has no comparison. It is a joy to see and a view into the wonderment of life.

6) Finding a friend on Facebook is an unexpected pleasure. Recently, a friend from 1966 sent me some old photos – right out of the blue. I couldn’t have found her if I tried. There she was, and we have been writing to each other ever since.

7) Erik Erickson was right. The main task of getting older is the challenge of generativity versus stagnation. We can sit in our homes or at work watching the world go by, or we can take the challenge of giving back, taking on a new project, volunteering our time, spending it taking care of young people and allowing ourselves to be the givers to the generations after us. It is that challenge that we 60-somethings face, and I am glad to take it on.

If you are 60 (or older), you know what I am taking about. If you are not there yet, then enjoy the ride. It has its ups and downs, but it is definitely worth it.


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