You’ve heard about the fountain of youth. Legend has it that when Ponce de León left Spain in the early 1500s he was in search of it. Fast-forward to today and a quick perusal of store shelves or magazine ads shows that the search continues. Why the obsession with youth? It has to do with how we view aging—most of us think it’s all downhill.
Feminist Betty Friedan invites us to step back from the hysteria and consider an alternative. In her classic book, The Fountain of Age, she challenges the notion that getting older means nothing more than disease and decline.
Researchers too often study the issues of nursing home residents instead of the successes of healthy older adults. With less than 10% of the population living in nursing homes, this makes no sense. The result is a lopsided picture that leads us to focus on problems of aging without recognizing the positives.
Friedan conducted interviews with people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s and discovered the many ways they were thriving. They described doing things they hadn’t dared to try when younger. They were taking advantage of this time in their life and making it more exciting than they’d ever expected.
There is Nell who was traveling to France with her new husband in her mid-70s. Taylor was nearly 60 when she started a therapy practice. Jean turned her interest in photography into a business making educational videos in her 70s. And Harold traded his CPA business cards for ones with DNO after his name—for “Discovering New Options.”
Story after story illustrates a person taking embracing his or her expanded years. Friedan calls them “pioneers of age.” They are boldly going where no man has gone before, to borrow from Star Trek, exploring opportunities not reached by previous generations. They are making new paths and expanding what many of us thought possible. You can be a pioneer, too. You’re not tied to what you’ve done or been before. Follow your heart. Find a new purpose and preserve meaningful connections. It’s time to thrive.
Too much has been said about the problems of aging, and not enough about the joys. This one-sided perspective pushes many to search in vain for a fountain of youth. Once you begin to see the whole picture, you learn all of life is to be celebrated. Challenge the conventional wisdom about aging. Expand your idea of what the years ahead might hold. Make your next chapter a time of continued growth, greater meaning, and lots of fun!