Can I Please Just Be 50 Already?

Chloe Hall
·8 mins read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

From ELLE

I’m 29, an age that means essentially nothing. It’s not 30, a symbolic-but-still-arbitrary marker of age, progress, and a little bit of wisdom. It’s just the last year of my late 20s, a time historically defined by turbulent change and unhappiness. The Harvard Business Review summed up this long list of reasons in a piece entitled "Why Your Late Twenties is The Worst Time of Your Life." (Thanks, I hate it.)

Photo credit: Art by Google
Photo credit: Art by Google

And so, in my dreams, I’m over 50. There, I live like the women I so admire—the Padma Lakshmis and Halle Berrys, the JLos and Jane Fondas and Martha Stewarts, the Tina Knowles and Michelle Obamas of the world. They know who they are, what they like, and how to navigate their lives. In my eyes, they’re happy.

In the midst of a pandemic, I’m searching for any strain of positivity I can apply to my life as I reckon with who I am, who I want to become, and shift my focus and purpose. Society looks to celebrity women for so many things: I want "the Rachel" or “Here’s What She Eats in a Day.” It’s a condition of surviving the public eye that what you look like and who you're dating are usually far more important than who you are and who you want to become.

But for my ladies, it seemed like once the clock struck midnight on their 49th birthday, they entered a new era of not caring. A quick scroll through Instagram showcases videos of Padma Lakshmi and Martha Stewart cooking and celebrating with family, laughing off the rude comments that demand they put on a bra and posting viral pool selfies wearing the most perfect eyeshadow. They're truly living a life I admire. Most importantly, during this incredibly anxious period, they, more than anyone else, appear to be… fine.

Martha Beck, who's written books on finding purpose and serves as Oprah’s life coach (screaming), says we gravitate toward these older women because they used their life experience to evolve and become better humans in the world. Beck makes the distinction between getting older and being over 50 and actually becoming an elder, which implies growth and experience earned over time.

“I have a friend and he explains that the elders of Native American tribes are the ones people go to for wisdom,” Beck says. “He says in our culture, a lot of people don't become elders, they just become olders. In dealing with clients, I've seen that some people don't outgrow their youthful problems and they don't get happier. They actually get less happy.”

You can’t stumble into your wisdom by simply existing. Rather, the elders and women I admire have worked for this distinction. “They had the opportunity to say, everyone's terminal on this bus, and this is a big adventure, so I might as well take it,” Beck says. “They have chosen that story and you can feel it in their freedom and their vibrancy. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just an energy machine to the end: She chose and chose and chose to see the world as a positive place. It's very simple. Around an older, you feel bad. Around an elder, you feel good.”

Even Gen Z, who will inherit an even worse planet in the coming decades, is looking to wisdom of the elders. “I feel like I relate more to Ina Garten than I do Addison Rae,” explains Bianca Garcia, a 22-year old social media editor at Glossier. “They are so wise and have been through life and thrived,” she says, echoing Beck. “Most of them are thriving in industries that have had an age limit for women. Being an actress, you are 30 and you’re done, but for them, they just said no.”

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This is 22!

A post shared by Bianca Lee Garcia (@biancaxgarcia) on Jul 21, 2020 at 4:28pm PDT

Beck's best advice is to find the elders: Watch them, listen to them, and hear the way they're telling the story of the world. “That story is what's going to change you,” she notes. Though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rubric for finding happiness—and one can definitely not assume happiness is found from an Instagram feed—there are common threads between the personal choices elders make and how they align with their positive outlooks. Below, Beck shares the key elements to becoming an elder that mirror what I'm seeing (and aspiring to) in my idols.

Sit still.

When was the last time you saw Dame Judi Dench leaving Nobu Malibu? Literally never. (Dame Dench lives in an English farmhouse and can be found most days enjoying tea with a few of her closest friends or relaxing in her garden, according to the L.A. Times.) In the famous words of Tina Fey/Liz Lemon, “I want to go there.” The Dame is not alone, and the list of elder celebrities choosing farmhouses (Hi Ina. Sup, Martha!) over nightclubs goes on and on. Paula Sutton runs the popular instagram account @hillhousevintage, which gives her followers an inside look at her countryside home, a place she now lives after giving up a successful career at Vogue. This stillness—removing oneself from the fray of the modern world and living a #cottagecore lifestyle emphasizing a return to basics including fresh ingredients, sunlit rooms, and sprawling spaces meant for pointless strolls—is the escapism I so crave.

But you don't have to operate in extremes—where Kendall Jenner's going versus what Meryl Streep is up to. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Beck agrees. “You either don’t learn that with age, in which case you could become an older, or you learn to sit quietly alone in a room and go through the anxiety that brings us into a space of deep peace. And that becomes an anchor for everything.”

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Have you ever wondered where my love of old houses comes from? Swipe to the right to see the house that I grew up in as a teenager - a creakingly beautiful old Edwardian house in South London built in 1905. I’ve mentioned before that my father’s first job in England was as a hospital porter, and his last job before retiring was as an Ambassador and High Commissioner. My parents are the reason why, when I’m described as being ‘brave’ to have left London and moved to rural Norfolk ten years ago, I protest and say that there was nothing ‘brave’ about it. Optimistic- yes. Hopeful - yes, but brave? Certainly not. Brave is travelling by boat in 1960 to a country that you’d only read about in books. Brave is entering a workforce that invited you out of necessity, but wasn’t wholly welcoming on your arrival. Brave is leaving a tropical climate with one small suitcase and a few dollars in your pocket and finding yourself on a different continent, experiencing freezing cold snow for the first time without a coat. Brave is having the blind faith to believe that despite the fact you have arrived on new and distant shores with ‘nothing’, that everything will work out well and that one day you you will have ‘something’. Believing that you have the right to create the life that you have always dreamed of is something that I was brought up to do. It’s not always easy, and it doesn’t always happen of course, but I’m thankful for the wonderful example of self belief and optimism I had in my parents. As part of Black History Month it’s important to see and understand all types of black history. My parents story is just one of many, but stories like theirs all contribute to the rich tapestry of who I am and how I came to have the interests and loves that I have today. Night night. xx • • #littlestoriesofmylife #blackhistorymonth

A post shared by Paula Sutton (@hillhousevintage) on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:35pm PDT

Accept loss.

These women have experienced it all: love, breakups, marriage, divorce, marriage again, divorce again, death, and so much more. What separates them from us is not only do we bear witness to their loss, but we also see their recovery. Jennifer Aniston’s highly publicized Skype interaction with Brad Pitt set the internet ablaze, the same way the couple's October 2005 divorce was plastered over every tabloid. To get on a video call with your ex after a very messy, public breakup and be completely okay with that—calm and relaxed as ever—is what character growth looks like, my friends.

“You have to go through the five steps of grieving every time,” Beck explains.“But once you've had to do it a few times, and because this planet is what it is, you, if you're 50 [or] 60, you will have done it a lot. You know the process of losing. You know that first shock. You know the hopelessness. You know that hopelessness is a lie. You know you'll come out of it. And so, the ability to lose and ride that roller coaster is another really key thing. Stillness is how you do it. They follow each other.”

Understand what really matters.

We constantly talk about a shift of priorities: I will eat healthier, I will focus on things that are important to me—spouse, kids, family—I will meditate. The list goes on. These ladies are actually doing it. From Tina Knowles writing lovey-dovey captions to her grandkids on Instagram to Laura Dern and Julia Louis Dreyfus giving us produce porn—how do you like those apples?—these people know what makes them happy and regularly seek it out. Their secret is simply knowing themselves.

“Those deep emotional states like peace, joy, and especially love—those things remain steady,” explains Beck. “They're like the space in which change happens, so they never change. I mean, you can pick up the baby when you're 60 and there is no difference from the feeling of picking up a baby when you were 20. You realize that feeling of absolute love never left. It never changed." In other words, once you allow everything to change, you realize there's a space in which nothing is changing and that's actually what you are.

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You say tomato and I say a shit ton.

A post shared by Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@officialjld) on Jul 26, 2020 at 1:17pm PDT

Let go.

Please welcome to the stage activist, actress, and TikTok star Jane Fonda. Fonda told NPR, “It’s important to face death and accept it, and understand it, because then you can kind of prepare. I visualize my death and I want to have people I love around me—which means between now and then I have to deserve to have people around me who love me.” That perspective helps explain how the actress is able to live so fully and without reservation.

“You realize that the irrevocable change is acceptable—as Eckhart Tolle says, ‘The secret of life is to “die before you die” and find that there is no death,’” explains Beck. “We must have the ability to be calm with the concept of death.”

I can't wait to grow up.

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