Consider these phrases: “Middle Aged,” “Over the Hill” and “Past Your Prime.” Do they inspire you to live a long, healthy and happy life? Me neither.

I love the slogan of the organization Aging as Ourselves:  “Age doesn’t define me; my attitude does.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But how do we pull this off when contemporary LGBT culture encourages Image Obsession and Body Perfection in almost every image and tweet? To sell products – and play on our insecurities – we’re repeatedly told that youth and beauty is our ultimate goal. We are told to be afraid—very afraid—of aging.

The advertising world has made it such a terrible thing to get old. How do we fight back and keep our sanity?

Unless we die, we’re gonna get older. The question is: how will we age? How will we feel about ourselves? Will we become calmer and happier or more neurotic and bitter?

According to Marianne Williamson, author of The Age of Miracles: Introducing the New Midlife,

“The need for change as we get older is a human phenomenon, neither male nor female. There simply comes a time in our lives—not fundamentally different from the way puberty separates childhood from adulthood—when it’s time for one part of ourselves to die and for something new to be born.”

What we have traditionally called middle age used to be seen as a turning point toward sickness, poverty and death. This is no longer true. “The New Middle Age” can be a shift toward life as we’ve never known it, if we question old ideas about aging that were handed down to us by hundreds of years of heterosexist culture.

Why not see ourselves as just getting started at 45 or 50?  What we’ve learned by that time - from both our failures as well as our successes - has humbled us and made us wiser. When we were younger, we probably had lots of energy, but we were pretty clueless about what to do with it. As we age, we may have less energy, but now we understand how to use it.

Once we move into the so-called second half of our life, it usually dawns on us that we don’t have an infinite number of years left. It’s a bit of a jolt, but a useful one if we see it clearly (and don’t panic). Indeed, from this perspective, it’s much easier to see what we want to do with the rest of our lives. If we’ve had a job/relationship/home that we hated for the past 20 years, can we let it go and move onto whatever’s next for us? Have we outgrown people, places and situations? Do we need to stay stuck in the same-old same-old? Or can we use the motivation of middle age to kick ourselves in the butt and make some long-overdue changes?

“The New Middle Age” can be a great time to reorganize our life’s priorities. Things that used to be important to us may be less important now. Many of my clients begin a shift from a life that emphasizes achievement and accumulation to a life of deeper meaning. Why not let go of the stuff we were told to chase by our parents and society - money, power, fame and image – and instead create a life of meaning, focused on serving and giving back.

“The New Middle Age” ain’t your mom and dad’s middle age. We can do it differently. It can be the time of our greatest potential for happiness and fulfillment, not the next step to the nursing home.

We’re living in a time of great change: we can release old, limiting beliefs about growing older and learn new ways of thinking. As we do this, our loneliness, anger, fear and pain will decrease. Consider this quote from 87-year-old author and publishing maven Louise Hay:

“I look forward to growing older. I choose to love myself at every age. Just because I am older doesn’t mean I have to get sick. Being older is normal and natural. I have the power to change myself and my world.”

How can YOU enjoy your new middle age?

Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at lifebeyondtherapy.com

 

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