I’m thinking about the Law of Conservation of Energy today. This law, first proposed and tested by Émilie du Châtelet, means that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another. I wonder if that applies to aging.
We view aging as a loss, and we try desperately to hold on to our youth as long as we can. It’s like our wonderful vacation is coming to an end and we want to stay a little longer. We forgot that the universe, our bodies and our minds seek equilibrium. For every loss there is a gain.
For men, the loss of testosterone can be terrifying. Yes, we lose some muscle and our libido goes into hibernation, but we’re more peaceful. At least that’s true for me. I don’t feel the need to prove myself or defeat anyone, either physically or mentally. I’m not quick to anger, and I find it easier to love. Frankly, I think the world would be a better place with less testosterone. Less populated perhaps, but more peaceful. I think that’s a gain that balances out the loss.
We lose the energy of our youth that propels us into constant motion. Where did that energy go? Maybe it went into our mind to give us the motivation to mine our wisdom and share it with others. When we’re young, we’re moving too fast to stop and reflect. When we’re older we can reflect on the patterns of our life.
We lose our beauty . . . or we think we do. The Grand Canyon is more beautiful after millions of years of erosion. We don’t stand on the rim and long for the days when it was just a river. Beauty comes from the inside. An aged, wrinkled face is beautiful when a wise and loving spirit shines through.
At 78, I realized that I’m not as good as I used to be; maybe I was never as good as I thought I was . . . and, I‘m OK with that. That “OKness” signaled a shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. I’ve been “put out to pasture” by a lot of people, but that gives me more time to learn and enjoy the beauty of the pasture.
Maybe burning that piece of paper at the Modern Elder Academy that said “Dissolve My Ego” helped. Realizing that I had 25% of my adult life still ahead of me certainly helped. I’m going to live to 98 . . . at least. Every day I look at Mary Oliver’s quote that says, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”
Bruce Feiler, in his recently published book, “Life is in the Transitions,” discovered three stories that we tell ourselves as we move through life. He called them our narrative identity. “The first is our ‘me story’—the one in which we’re the hero, the doer, the creator; we exercise agency and, in return, feel fulfilled. The next is our ‘we story’—the one in which we’re part of a community, a family, a team; we belong to a group and, in turn, feel needed. The third is our ‘thee story’—the one in which we’re serving an ideal, a faith, a cause; we give of ourselves to others and, by extension, feel part of something larger.”
As I start to see the pattern of my life, I see an evolution from a dysfunctional “me” story that blinded me to the needs of others to a “thee” story that is giving purpose and meaning to my life. One of the joys of aging is that we get clarity on a few great existential questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What are my values? What is non-negotiable in my life?
David Brooks said recently in an interview, “I’ve noticed one way in which turning 70 is like turning 17. Hormones kick in. The hormones at 17 lead to a great hunger for you know what. The hormones at 70 lead to a great hunger for generativity, for giving back to future generations. People at that age have a great horniness for service and they start volunteering promiscuously.”
That old cliché that says when one door closes another opens is true about aging if we know how to find the door. That’s what I want to do with my one wild and precious life. I want to help people find that door.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with YOUR one wild and precious life.”
Pat Whitty is a certified health coach, workplace wellness consultant, and Modern Elder Whisperer from San Antonio, TX.