The Freedom of Getting Older

My 19th birthday, 1991, Vancouver, Canada. I wish I hadn't been as hard on myself as I always was.

Just before my 42nd birthday, Prague, Czech Republic, 2014. 

I was going to title this 'The Freedom of Being Old' since I think that would resonate with the 20 somethings I have in mind while writing this.  Certainly I would have considered someone my age (43) 'old' when I was 23.  However, one of the things I have learned is that age really is relative.  My grandmother, in her 80s, would refer to me as 'very young' in my 30s (which I thought was strange because it was not my perspective). Also...I suppose growing up is a process.  And that's what I want to talk about.

Magazine stands would have you think that ageing is one of the worst things that could happen to you, especially if you're a woman.  Not only is that not the case but there is a greater amount of freedom in being who you want to be when you're older than in one's mid-20s.  And I can only appreciate it now, having seen both sides.

When I was 25 I felt a huge amount of pressure to 'be grown up' and 'succeed'.  We put a huge amount of pressure on young people to prove themselves at a very young age. Once one graduates from university, one is expected to instantaneously be a fully mature person with all the trappings.  Human development doesn't work like that.  We continue to evolve, mature and add to our lives.  Being on the other side now I feel a huge amount of compassion for people in their 20s, who are expected to graduate from university, get 'real' jobs, have a strong long-term relationship, start to think about starting a family, buy a house (and set it up!), buy a car, and start worrying about their health/looks as they approach 30. All in a handful of years. Crikey.

When I was in my 20s I remember seeing friends and acquaintances buy houses and/or get married.  It was easy to feel like I was missing the boat.  What was wrong with me? I felt that I wasn't as successful as they were because I wasn't achieving these milestones at the same time.  Well let me tell you, time is a great leveller. I wish I could tell my then-self not to worry.

Considering how youth-focused our society is supposed to be, I don't really think we treat people in their 20s very well.  We dismiss them because they are 'young'.  We don't take them as seriously or give them as much respect.  And that's wrong.  I was shocked when I returned to work-outside-the-home when my daughter was 1.  At 35 people treated me much differently than they had when I was 25, 28, or 31. That was a first.  I hadn't changed, as such.  But my age had.  I suddenly wielded much more gravitas and power simply because of my age.  And while its good, I think, to be respectful of someone's experience and wisdom, judging someone based on age is complete bullshit.  I know people at 25 who are more mature than some people at 65.  Like most things, it depends.

Its also completely useless to judge how mature someone is by how many 'milestones' they've achieved.  "When are you settling down?", "You'll be next [at a wedding]",  "When are you going to have kids [this is the worst because its so invasive & nobody's business]".  We live in a society where its considered radical to push against any of those questions.  To not go along with the majority.  Well, I can honestly tell you, you don't have to.  Don't succumb to the pressure.  Do things when you want to do them and to hell with everyone else.

For the parents out there, be compassionate towards your children.  Support them in doing things in their own time.  I once witnessed a parent getting visibly angry because her son wasn't walking at the same time his peers were.  Don't be that parent.  Life is not a competition.


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