How Old Would You Be if You Didn’t Know the Day You Were Born?

Retirement, Social Security, Strategies

EARLY FALL 2008 – It was my 50th high school class reunion; a good turnout with classmates from all over the country. We had fun with old friends, catching up on the last 50 years.

Ray P. donated the use of his country club for the big banquet, so everyone was dressed accordingly. My wife Jo and I were seated next to the wall. We looked around and observed some of the women would give movie star Ann Margaret a run for her money. Others reminded us of our grandmothers. Likewise, for the men – some were dressed stylishly and others looked like our grandfathers.

A few years later we experienced the same thing at Jo’s 50th reunion. Why do some people appear much younger, while others are the opposite?

You look young for your age!

The first time I remember hearing that, I had turned 70. I was offended, feeling like it was an insincere attempt at flattery. “What the heck is a guy supposed to look like at 70? I’m 50 pounds overweight, bald and my beard is totally grey.”

The response was an eye-opener. “Just being around you, listening to you, watching your behavior, I would have never believed you are 70.” They weren’t talking about my looks, but rather my behavior.

Jo and I revisited the discussion about our reunions. Many who seemed younger may not have been able to fit into the prom jacket or poodle skirts of their youth, but they sure don’t behave like old people.

“It was so naive to think that there was nothing interesting that happened after 55. Come on, there’s a whole second adulthood!” – Gail Sheehy

Gail Sheehy’s 1974 book, Passages, looked at each decade of life and concluded our society is behaving much younger. 80’s are what 70’s used to be – 70’s are what 60’s used to be, etc. She wrote several sequels concluding the trend is continuing; while people may be aging on the calendar, their behavior is not aging like previous generations.

Jo and I felt Ms. Sheehy is probably right; however, it does not apply to everyone. We concluded that age is just a number. For example, I am soon to be 80 years old. There are some people who are a young 80, others 80 and some are an old 80.

Physical health may play a role, but I look at friend Chuck Butler. He’s dealt with cancer for over a decade. He has lost an eye, is not as mobile as he used to be. He retired and still writes the Daily Pfennig, is very active, and is one of the most up to date people, with a positive attitude you will ever meet.

I’m sure we all have friends who are very active, appearing and behaving much younger than what we would anticipate for their age. We also know “couch potatoes” that stopped growing years ago.

“If every day is an awakening, you will never grow old. You will just keep growing.” – Gail Sheehy

My step-father retired from the post office at 65 and stopped growing. In the generation before him, the male life expectancy was around 67. It appeared he was just hanging out waiting for his call. Dad didn’t want to go anywhere, do anything and, other than sports, lost all interest in the outside world.

My mother was more active and would go on trips. She would put meals in the freezer and off she would go. It was fine with him. When mother died, dad went into an assisted living facility. He would eat his meals, then go back to his room and lock the door. He lived that way until he was 92. Encouraging him to do things would just aggravate him so we gave up. While he was comfortable, that is not how I want to live out my golden years.

We conducted an informal survey among friends. What does it take to have the world look at you as “young” for your age?

Physical health. Certainly, being in good physical health will keep you younger; however, we no longer need to be “faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”

Recently a heart doctor told us that doing normal household chores and a 15-20 minute walk a day is more than reasonable. Doing more earns you extra credit.

Appearance. Looking back on our reunion experiences, we realized that dressing stylishly certainly helps. Many women colored their hair, wore appropriate makeup and dressed stylishly. I’ll confess Jo has a major say-so in what I wear these days…and that’s OK.

Active. How do we define active? We see many ads for “active adult communities”. They normally depict seniors playing golf, tennis, swimming, and doing outdoor activities. The implication is active means physical activity.

Being active is more than that. We have friends that are involved with Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) that are advocates for abused or neglected children. Others are involved in helping at animal shelters, singing or theatre groups.

Active adult communities generally have dozens of clubs; dominoes, dining groups, gardening, card clubs, day-trippers, book clubs, you name it. Look at the refrigerator calendar for active adults and it is pretty full. If there is family nearby, combining family activities with your friends leads to an active lifestyle.

Meeting the aging challenge head on

“Changes are not only possible and predictable, but to deny them is to be an accomplice to one’s own unnecessary vegetation. If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy

Transitioning into your golden years can be a daunting challenge; particularly if health issues are involved.

After I had been retired for a few years I realized what you think your retirement is going to be is theory; it may not turn out the way you anticipated. Once you begin the transition you will make changes and do-overs are normal.

At 75, Jo and I moved from Florida to Arizona. One friend remarked, “At your age, you are doing what?” That frosted me, what does age have to do with it. We packed up and moved across the country and love our Arizona lifestyle.

Sharing some experience

Here are some observations from our life experiences.

Commit yourself to being committed. That is the first step in Dennis Connor’s book, “The Art of Winning.”

When I learned I had cancer I called my mentor, Chuck Butler. He has battled cancer for more than a decade. He told me, from day one, he committed to the idea he was going to “beat” cancer. He says that he has “battled to a draw” for over a decade and is not giving up. In the meantime, he has seen his family grow, graduate and he is now a proud, loving grandfather.

One of my post-treatment cancer challenges is learning how to eat again. Chuck’s advice was followed. I told the doctor to take out my stomach tube as soon as possible. By doing so, I was committed to learning how to eat again.

Embrace the changes aging brings and meet them head on.

Keep your head in the game. Many friends have “encore careers.” While the money helps, in many cases, it is to get involved, get out of the house and make a difference in the world.

Never stop reading and learning. Most all of our “young for their age” friends are well-read and stay on top of things. Several have joined a photo club and are becoming excellent photographers. If you get involved in a political discussion, you will be surprised how they have their facts together.

Of particular note, never stop reading and learning about investing your money wisely.

Don’t allow yourself to get old. I used to tell friends one of my favorite songs is “I want to live until I die.” This one got to me:

A friend sent me the Toby Keith song, “Don’t Let The Old Man In”:

Don’t let the old man in, I wanna leave this alone
Can’t leave it up to him, he’s knocking on my door
And I knew all of my life, that someday it would end
Get up and go outside, don’t let the old man in

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how old you’d be
If you didn’t know the day you were born

Try to love on your wife
And stay close to your friends
Toast each sundown with wine
Don’t let the old man in

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how old you’d be
If you didn’t know the day you were born

When he rides up on his horse
And you feel that cold bitter wind
Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

Aging and health problems be damned; staying younger than our age deals with our outlook on life and behavior. How old would you be if you didn’t know the day you were born? Enjoy the ride!

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