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Actress Shirley Jones made plans to skydive on her 80th birthday. Just thinking about such an activity terrifies most people. Yet the former Partridge Family mom says jumping out of an airplane at 4000 feet wasn’t what frightened her.
Turning 80 did. “The number scares me to death,” she said.
Fear of aging is no different, in essence, from any other fear. Yes, growing older involves loss, as does every life stage. If we’re growing — not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually — we’re always saying goodbye. And also hello.
The key to mastering fear at any life stage is resilience. What does this look like?
- When life gives you lemons, yell: “Plot twist!” Some people adopt the script they were handed at birth and perform their lines faithfully every day for the rest of their lives. They don’t realize they have the power to nullify the contract at any time, with no penalties. When life seems unfair or you find yourself caught in a cycle of fear and worry, hit the stop button. Then cancel or erase. And rewrite.
- Own it. Too often we’re eager to own everything money can buy, but not the one thing it can’t: personal power. Don’t cede control of your life to anyone; understand that others have their own scripts, which may or may not mesh with yours. Emotions are part of life. You have the power to observe your feelings, recognize when they’re flying out of control, take a deep breath, and choose to think a new thought. The great philosopher Goethe said, “Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.”
- Embrace change. While you may never desire to jump out of an airplane, allow yourself to take leaps of faith: calculated risks. If something doesn’t work out, at least you tried. My grandfather came to this country as a child, matriculated in electrical engineering, started his own business, later took over the management of a theatre chain when his dad died, and went bankrupt just before the U.S. entered WWII. Plot twist! The government needed engineers. He dusted off his degree, joined what would later become the Army Corps of Engineers, and, thanks to his administrative acumen in addition to engineering expertise, rose rapidly to attain the highest civilian rank at the conclusion of an eclectic, illustrious career. He remains one of my role models of fearless living.
- Take the long view. The view from 80 is a wide-angle telescope. So much life lived, so much experience, so much perspective — and, hopefully, at least a modicum of wisdom gained. If you make it this long, you understand staying power. The most amazing experience of your life could be just around the corner. I draw inspiration from author and personal development pioneer Louise Hay, now 87, who has said at each life stage that the best years of her life are the ones she’s living now: “Make the rest of your life the best of your life!” Hay is a powerhouse of passion, co-authoring books with some of the leading lights of Hay House, the publishing company she founded 30 years ago. She’s adopted and adapted to technology, and surrounds herself with a stellar team who translate her vision into products and services for a growing global audience.
- Have a plan. Just as you’ve given considerable thought to how you want to live later in life (stay in your current home with a possible reverse mortgage, move to a smaller place or nearer family, live in an elder community, etc.) and planned for your health and financial needs, have a plan in place to replenish yourself emotionally and spiritually as you grow older — that’s the true “fountain of youth”! Having faith — and a sense of humor — helps.
It’s not necessarily easy, saying goodbye to people, places and experiences we cherish. However, when we say yes to Life, with a capital L, Life will say Yes to us, with a capital Y. Aging is the natural result of living long. May you and your reverse mortgage clients and prospects revere the opportunity to grow old, and to share what you’ve learned with those who can benefit from your wisdom.