Why You Need To De-Mature As You Age
Ideas on aging from an occasionally youthful GenXer
I was fearless as a kid. I went on the scariest rides at theme parks. I clamored for scary stories. In sixth grade, I asked out a girl, unafraid of any possible rejection.
As the years progressed, I accumulated baggage. I got sick on a roller coaster and vowed never ride them again. I experienced the first of many rejections; it stung, so I avoided situations that risked rejection.
Some might call my slow transformation the result of collected wisdom. But that’s just a lie we tell ourselves to feel better about the truth.
I became more afraid as I aged. I didn’t want to be that way, but that’s what happened. Recently, I’ve vowed to fight it, to turn back the clock on years of accumulated fear.
Remember when you were naive?
You take a lot of bumps and bruises to reach your goals, only to realize it wasn’t worth it
Twenty-five years ago, I hadn’t faced many disappointments. I was too dumb to realize the dispassionate indifference of the world. I acted accordingly. In my late teens, I asked people to sign petitions on a variety of issues. In my twenties, I cold called people and sold investments to multi-millionaires. I had no idea I wasn’t qualified to talk to them.
I took chances without fully understanding the perceived risks, blinded by the possibility of success. Of course, success never comes as easy as you expect. You take a lot of bumps and bruises to reach your goals, only to realize it wasn’t worth it. You never forget those experiences.
Each time you take that risk, you do it with a little bit more fear and hesitation. At some point, the potential pain exceeds the potential gain. That’s when we give up.
That’s what happened to me. I played it safe for twenty years or so. I avoided activities and roles that would put me in the same painful circumstances. This avoidance technique saved me from short-term pain but also prevented long-term gains. Only recently have I de-matured enough to get back into the arena.
Some crave change. Some fear it
Simple observation tells us it’s mostly the older generation who resists change. Perhaps it’s a lifetime of stockpiled disappointments and fears that keep them at the forefront of change resistance.
When you age, you look at the younger folks and shake your head at their naïve deep dive into the harsh world of the unknown. That’s the wrong approach. We should admire their enthusiasm and try to regain our own idealism, tempered with the benefit of wisdom.
But how? How do we regain the idealistic gumption of our youth?
Decide you want it back
I see people my age already falling into the safety trap. They fear change, risk and disruption. They’ve seen it all before. They don’t want to experience it again. I understand the urge to think that way, but to me, that state of mind marks the beginning of old age.
My first experience with that line of thinking happened in my early thirties. I had settled into a job. I didn’t like it, but it felt safe.
The older we get, the more we crave certainty and the less we embrace possibility.
I had gone out for lunch with a colleague. He was about fifteen years older than me. He said his goal was to avoid political entanglements and become invisible. I asked why. He said it was because he had twenty working years left and wanted to retire at this company.
I felt pity for him. He was still relatively young and had already started playing defense, running out the clock before retirement beckoned. I didn’t want to be like that.
He had given up on the wonder of possibility and settled for the impossibility and illusion of certainty.
The older we get, the more we crave certainty and the less we embrace possibility. I often find myself gravitating towards what’s safe instead of what excites me. It takes a conscious effort to fight that urge.
Several years ago, I decided to expel the decades’ worth of garbage from my psyche. I embraced the world of possibility and shunned the illusion of certainty.
I haven’t always been successful, but you don’t need to be. An occasional victory over the illusion of certainty breathes life into you. It makes you crave more.
At some point, you become resistant to change
In my twenties, I felt sure about my beliefs on economics, justice, climate change, religion, abortion, immigration, work, relationships, and a host of other worldviews. None of them have remained static over the years. Personal experiences have forced me to re-examine some of my positions.
I’ve changed my mind before. Just because I’m forty-seven doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind again. Cognizant of this, I’m watching friends and peers lose the will to reshape their beliefs as they age. It’s as if their brains were lumps of clay already hardened in a kiln.
They no longer keep an open mind, alter beliefs to accommodate new information or even admit they’re wrong. I never thought my beloved GenX generation would fall into that pattern.
Somewhere along the way, we decide to settle into our worldviews, tame our spirits, and keep the universe from changing. We become adept at interpreting new stimuli to satisfy our beliefs and justify our actions instead of challenging them.
We need to retain, even harness the wonder of possibility, but it requires practice.
Here’s an exercise I find helpful.
First, if you don’t journal each morning or night, begin doing it now. Next, dedicate one or two lines in your journal to answering some of these questions.
What new piece of information did I learn today that conflicted with or challenged a current belief?
You don’t need to change your belief, only open yourself up to the possibility that you could be wrong.
Pick a firmly held belief and your most persuasive argument to support it.
Now, write a few lines to refute it.
Why are you still working at your job, running your business? Do you love it? Does it excite you?
Did you answer no to both questions? What can you do about it? Sure, you need to pay the bills, but what can you do on the side? Writing has been that outlet for me.
What can you do to harness or recover your youthful spirit?
Do you still hang out with the same people from high school? Do you shun anyone more than five years younger than you? Expose yourself to the idealistic younger generation. Remember what it was like when you were like that.
In what areas of your life do you crave certainty? What would happen if you opted for the wonder of possibility?
This doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. It can be as big as quitting your job to start your own business or as small as submitting a story to a publication and risking rejection.