Last week I celebrated my 49th birthday, isolated at home with my family. It is an interesting time to try to celebrate, with COVID-19 creating such tragedy and disruption around the world. And yet, I celebrate. Not only because of my birthday, but because of the number. 49. One year away from the big 5-0. Half a century. I’m headed out of my 40’s and into the next decade of life, that strange territory known as “Over the Hill.” People tell me “It’s all downhill from here,” but they don’t mean that in a good way. Many people look at heading into 50 with a sense of dread and despair. Not me. Ironically, I look forward to my next birthday, and have for many years. Let me share the reason why….
It goes back to my Grandma Vanderhoff. Grandma lived to be 92 years old, and she was always a positive woman with a powerful influence on my life. I’m not sure why it stuck with me, but on more than one occasion I remember her saying, “Life starts at 50!” She said that with a twinkle in her eye, a smile on her face, and excitement in her voice. I cannot recall her ever explaining why she felt that, but I do remember her saying it, and I am exceedingly grateful to her.
Psychologists tell us that we are shaped by the voices we hear in our heads, and these voices (often called ‘tapes’ by people over the age of 40) have a remarkable impact on the way we think and perceive life experiences. These ‘tapes’ are the voices of people from our past who spoke to us in our formative years. Often these ‘tapes’ are negative, with voices of discouragement reminding us of our failures. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a worthwhile approach to rewriting these tapes so that we can reframe our thinking and hear more positive voices in our heads.
I have some negative voices, but not the voice of Grandma. Grandma was always a positive voice, and though she has been gone since 2008, I ‘hear’ her encouraging me with each subsequent year. In large part because of her, rather than dread aging and coming to terms with life on the other side of “the hill,” I am able to look forward to this milestone with hopeful anticipation. I’m not there yet, and I’m not in a rush to get there. Despite the difficult times we are living in, I still try to live life fully and to enjoy every day as the gift that it is. But I am looking forward to tomorrow, as I approach the year that Grandma always said that her life truly began. If you are one who dreads the oncoming years and the thought of getting older, I hope you might hear the words of my dear Grandma, and believe that wherever you are in life, it can get better from here.