By Dr. Juliana Hauser | Posted May 11, 2023
There is a beautiful movement inviting us to embrace the gifts of aging. There are different messages depending. Some are in conflict. Some are unanimous. 50 is the new 30. Reclaim the typical mid-life crisis as an awakening rather than a breakdown. Do not fight the aging of our bodies and minds. Accept aging and all the wonder it brings. See the utter gift of making it to 50 years on this planet. I decided to do a mini dive into this topic myself. If you haven’t yet read part one of my Turning 50 journey, please do! I will be doing more writing and musing about this as the year progresses.
I feel deep resonance with most of this movement… at least the theory of it.
I don’t feel 30. I actually don’t WANT to be 30. I feel 40ish? And then I think what does that even mean? I definitely don’t think I “look” 30 so that seems absurd to me. But why do looks need to be the most important signifier of our age? Why can’t 50 just be 50? Why does it have to be the “new” anything? I resonate with aging without limits. Facing aging. All of it. The exciting parts. The grateful parts. The grieving parts. There are a multitude of feelings associated with aging.
I wrote an article in my early 40’s positing that mid-life is an awakening rather than a crisis and asked the readers what they were going to do with their awakening. I do see great value in the reframe of age. I treasure many gifts that come with reaching 50. I have lived 5 decades. I have experienced incredible global advances and tragedies. I have seen TVs get remotes and mailboxes turn into inboxes. I have seen gas crises and political upheavals. The German wall come down. I have seen peers gripped by the fear of Russian invasions and the devastation of 9/11. I have seen space exploration and the magic of movies blossom, been witness to some incredible art and expression. Those are really impactful occurrences.
Personally, I have matured from a freckled, messy-haired little girl who lived in treetops and played in imaginary worlds, to a self-taught MVP high school tennis player, to a kindergarten teacher, to a therapist, to an international speaker. I have learned how to communicate better, love better, and discern deeper friendships and relationships. I’ve had great sex and lots of laughter. I am raising two incredible kids. I have a great extended family. Amazing friends. All the good things.
I have also experienced horrific domestic violence, completed multiple grueling infertility treatments, lost a deep love of mine through an unexpected death, been divorced twice, been betrayed by loved ones, and had people very threatened by my quest for agency.
I have traveled to many places worldwide and grown from each immersion. The blessings and growth from international travel is abundant. I have attended many self-discovery retreats and courses, worked with several incredible therapists to help me gain insight. I have asked profound questions and dug into really uncomfortable places that their answers revealed.
I have hurt people, made decisions that didn’t serve me, lived with the consequences of said choices, yelled, thought about killing myself, said things I shouldn’t have said, avoided responsibilities, drank too much, got catty about people, watched too much tv, cried a lot. I have a shitty side of me for sure.
I have showed up for people, changed people’s lives, sacrificed for my family, prayed tons, put others before me, and tried very hard to be a positive person who contributes to the lives of others who enter my orbit. There is a lovely side of me also.
As said, I am far from perfect. There are some decades I was a better version of myself than others. There were people I was much more soul-focused with than others. At times I was a better contributor to the world than other times. It has been a rocky ride as I am sure you can relate…
I have lived a privileged life as a white woman in a home with generational wealth and education. Some of my complaints and problems are embarrassingly simple. I have benefited from generations before me and have unearned rights because of that. I don’t forget that throughout all of my self-reflection. It is always there, always a part of me and drives me forward towards a more equitable future.
There are times I look at 50 and think life hasn’t turned out like I thought. People are bigger assholes than I want them to be. People disappoint you. Life doesn’t necessarily get better. Bad things happen to good people. Hard work doesn’t always mean you’ll be compensated or recognized for it. Shitty people have good things happen to them.
I’ve had to look at several life choices I made and face that those decisions made so that other flowers of opportunity weren’t allowed to blossom. I have to deal with the “what ifs” of those choices. I’ve had to face how my problems and issues have fucked me at times. I’ve needed to reconcile unjust things happening. Losing people I loved. Losing faith in people I love. And losing trust in my own judgment. I’ve let myself down more than other people have let me down. When I sit with those things, 50 feels a little bit heavier, a bit bigger, and a bit older.
I have more to go to be a better human. To be the kind of mother I want to be. To make the impact I want to have on the world. To be the sort of partner to someone that I can be proud of. To be a better boss. To be a better friend. To be a better…everything. I have more to go. But as I reflect a few months into turning 50, I sit in gratefulness.
50. As a teenager, I had a few misperceptions. I remember thinking that 40 was ancient and 50 was SO old. I was full of assumptions and images.
My hairdresser told me I was 50%-lightened at the last visit, and I thought she meant the sun had bleached my hair. I thought that was strange because I wasn’t in the sun much this summer. Never occurred to me that my bleaching was being overtaken by gray hair. I wasn’t horrified I was actually secretly pleased and laughed really hard. So this is gray hair. Cool. Felt like a fun rite of passage. (Now gray pubes. That is a different level of self-reflection. I won’t go there right now because I didn’t even know in my teenage life that pubic hair could and would turn gray (ha!). But I will never forget the first I got from a friend my age who wrote, ‘ WTF? No one told us your pubes turn gray. First one. I need to take a day off of work to sit with this realization.
I had no idea that some of the aging process would feel like it does. Or that graying felt bizarre and fun at the same time. And that I would come to the place to beg my body to stop making periods every month, as well as feel the loss of what that meant to never really appreciate the deep wisdom my menstrual cycle could teach me and the power in fertility and change in that.
I’ve been pretty thin most of my life, but the beginning of menopause, life stressors, and the pandemic put on some pounds that made me do some serious work to re-awaken my relationship with my body. I realized I love food, I don’t love exercising, and my job is very sedentary. Trifecta of weight gain. I was told by many to appreciate my body and metabolism while I had it. And I didn’t back then, but I do now. And it is back to the work I teach others. Things shift. Things sag and droop, and wow, I had no idea one of my favorite parts of my body, my hair, would become a place that represented such loss and sadness. WHO KNEW HAIR carried so much for me until I started losing it. There are many things I can write about this topic and will but this is the start. Radically loving my body and the curves and wrinkles, aches and pains, and deciding what do I want to change and what do I accept was something I had no idea I would ever tackle and it is here and it isn’t as easy as the marketing material makes it seem.
I have a ‘whatever’ sort of guttural response to this phrasing. “All down hill after this,” “The Golden Years,” etc… I don’t know. I don’t know how it feels because I am just rounding that corner now but I do know this…it DOES feel like SOMETHING momentous to realize IF things go well and I end up on the positive odds and percentages out there, I have about 20 solid years left of expected good health. And time to pursue my dreams with my family, a romantic partner, my career, and the joy I want to experience in life. And as often comes to this conversation with my friends… to achieve the legacy I desire. I want to leave the world a little better than I found it, I want to leave a legacy for my children, I want to build my life and financial wealth to be something I’m proud of, I want to internally develop and evolve into the person I want to be. 20-ish years seems both long and short in span. Of course I hope to live much longer. To thrive well into my 90’s but I’m also trying to being realistic.
There are many people I have met along my journey that would likely do more with the the privilege I was handed. I have wealth privilege. I have race privilege. I have education privilege… just to name a few. That understanding is not lost on me one single day. I try to ground myself in that knowing as often as I can. And I try to do what I can with this privilege for those who don’t have it. This includes all that comes with 50. I said this twice in this article but it bears mentioning twice because I get the impact of this deeper every day.
Time IS ticking so it is time to GET ON IT. Time to make decisions. To live life. Jesse Itzler teaches about building a life resume and I agree whole-heartedly that we should build a life that blooms brilliantly with time, experience, and so much joy. The gifts have led me to a series of questions I really began asking and answering in the lasts few years.
I have so many wonderful things in my life, in my history and I truly believe in my future. I have ideas I want to take to fruition, I have harvests I am ready to experience after planting seeds for so long, I have people I want to give back to and pay forward for. I have challenges I want to tackle and things I want to learn. I have stillness and wonder and present mindedness I want to sit in to. How do I maneuver from there and how it used to be to right now and where I want to transition to? With these questions.
Three things came up for me in this questioning and your answers will of course be different than mine. Time, emotional energy, and influence as they relate to the relationships in my life are what I extracted from the answers of these important question at this time in my life.
The burden I unloaded in that process was enormous.
Full disclosure — some of the above pissed off some people. Hurt people. Some of the above made people gossip about me, make assumptions about me and reject me. I have been challenged about it. I have been told what people say about me. I have felt the ice-cold blast of people’s disapproval. I have lost people because of one of the ten or a combination of a few. I questioned some of my choices and cried about some of the pain that whipped back to me. It wasn’t a snap and clear. I suffered some because of the choices. That’s what agency is about.
Parts of the tough stuff are rough. Some of it is fun and freeing. Real life, real choices, real consequences. I’ll certainly take the complicated brew of that compared to the utter soul drain I felt before doing it. And I would do it again tomorrow, and also recognize that I have some glimmers of sadness knowing I hadn’t done more of it years ago.
I remember seeing some interviews of women turning 50 and saying it was the beginning of their favorite decade. Mainly in the gift of not caring nearly as much of what people think of you and gaining a deeper understanding of yourself. I refine that better to suit me and say, I care DIFFERENTLY about what people think of me.
I get both of those things and I’ll add a third, agency. I am stepping into an even deeper layer of agency with each year. It has to be the most freeing thing I have done for myself. There’s no turning back and I’m determined to keep climbing, my next 20 (or 30, or 40) aren’t going to be downhill. I want to keep growing and learning and loving. I want to have great sex for many more decades and I want to keep refining the people who are in my life in meaningful ways. I want to keep learning as a human, as a woman, as a mother, as a…….. I want to bring agency into all areas of my world in increasing volumes and I want to give myself grace when I don’t or don’t do so well. And I want to extend that grace to others also.
How are you going to change things in your life when you do a self-audit? What wisdom comes to you in your aging? What are you still grappling with? What does life have in store for you in your life ahead?