Is 60 a milestone? How we face the challenge of ageing
Entering our 60s seems to usher in a time of change, uncertainty and growth for many people. As I enter this world myself, I notice changes in myself: some pleasant, some less so, and I wonder what is most helpful to the many people who struggle with this transition.
I remember thinking, as I approached 30, that it was at this point that if “life” hadn’t happened to you already, it probably would at this point. At 29 I fell off the gilded escalator of youth and blissful expectations, and met the harsh reality of my Grandmother dying, and my world being turned upside down by my husband leaving.
And it feels like 60 is a similar sort of age, a similar milestone, or gateway to a time when the reality of our ageing, of our own mortality and those around us, comes to the foreground. If we haven’t already lost a parent, or faced their transformation as they age, this is likely to be happening soon. We may be concerned about an older partner, and seeing their ageing accelerate. And almost as hard is realising that many of our contemporaries haven’t made it this far: we are already survivors.
So far, so grim! But my aim is not to depress you, more to place the experience of approaching and passing this milestone into some form of context. Just as my 30s were a time of growth, exploration and adventure, I believe our 60s offer similar opportunities. I see these in myself, and in the many clients of a similar age who bring their struggles and hopes around ageing to therapy. Being 60 is much more than being able to get a senior railcard!
I posted a brief survey about being 60 on Facebook, and emailed invitations to anyone I knew who I thought might be 55 and over. Within a few days I had well over 100 responses, with many more coming in after I had closed it. I seemed to have hit a nerve, particularly with people coming up to 60, who formed over half the respondees.
I was curious to know if people thought it was a milestone, whether people thought they were changing in their beliefs and attitudes, in their sense of who they were, and what was changing in their experience of the world. The majority of those who replied were women, and a good number were counsellors, as I posted it in the Facebook group “Good Enough Counsellors”, so this in no way purports to be a survey of the population as a whole.
What they said:
- 60 is a milestone. One thing they were largely agreed upon, probably because it had motivated them to complete the survey, was that 60 was a milestone in some way.
- Health and our mortality come to the fore. Many were concerned about declining health, and an awareness of our mortality was also important.
- Freedom to be who you are. Many people enjoyed the freedom of spirit that they felt being older had given them, feeling less concerned about what other people think about them. Others, though, were concerned that their identity was being changed for them by society writing them off as “old”.
- Anxiety could go either way. For each person who felt they were less anxious than when younger there was someone else who felt more anxious.
At 60 we definitely have more life behind us than we have ahead. For me this brings an urgency to get on with the things that are important, rather like a bucket list. The “if not now then when” becomes more imperative.
If you are finding this transition hard, what can you do to help find a way through?
Remember, you are not alone
It happens to everyone who makes it this far. Everyone you were at school with, your friends, if they are still alive, they are getting older.
We have a choice in how we live our lives
Especially now, in how we view our regrets, our bitterness, any anger we hold at ourselves and others. Taking the time to review your life, and to savour the joyful bits and acknowledge the harder parts can be helpful. You may wish to do this with someone else.
Get curious about how others experience this stage of transition
How do other people manage their financial needs? How do they cope with reducing or stopping working, or trading status and power for more free time? If you like reading there are plenty of books and websites on the subject.
Find friends and activities that you can enjoy now
Rather than hanging on to those where you feel a shadow of your former self. Every keen cyclist I know who has decided to invest in an electric bike seems to have come to terms with this apparent decline with great ease and pleasure!
Spend time working out what is really important to you
Possibly enlisting the support of a friend or a therapist to help you with this. Work out what you need to be able to do these things, or be where you wish to be, and work out how you will put them into practice.
Spend time in nature
It is generally good for us anyway, but there is also a deeper connection that you may feel if you slow down and allow this in, and to resonate with life around you.
Our 60s have the potential to be a growthful, productive and rewarding time, in which we treasure life in a new way. We don't know how long our health, or that of our loved ones will last, or how much longer we have on this planet, but we can make sure we live each day, whether a good day or a not so good day, appreciating the life and love that we have.
I am currently working out what is most important to me. I have started a path of spiritual exploration and practice to assist this work, alongside my regular reflection and supervision. And I know I will learn from each of the people who I am privileged to work with as they tackle their path through this fascinating and important stage in life.
The full report can be found here: Kate Graham 2021 Impact of 60
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