It seems everyone I meet is afraid of growing old. It’s so bad that even thirty-six year old women bemoan that they’re reaching the age of no return, unless they can get married and have a child soon. There’s a race in our society to accomplish as much as we can, as soon as we can, because once we hit forty, we’re doomed.
Doomed from promotion, if you’re a salesperson. Doomed from motherhood, if you haven’t conceived yet. Doomed from starring in a Hollywood movie, if you’re an actress. Even in Silicon Valley, the race continues, and if you haven’t created some new great app and sold your company by the age of thirty, you might as well hang it up old man.
Personally, I think this behavior is incredibly silly. Most would say that our society encourages this insane idea that life is over by forty through advertising, media and entertainment. That advertising never worked on me. Even when I was younger, I wondered why people seemed to give it their all until middle age and then either turn to treatment after treatment to stay “young”, or let it all go and grow unhealthy quickly, as if waiting for Death to knock on their door at any minute.
The truth is, Death isn’t going to knock on our door at forty. Or even fifty. Nor is life even close to being over at middle age. What if our obsession with youth has nothing to do with what’s sold to us? What if instead, it’s an old, biologically based fear that lives within us so deeply, we don’t notice it?
What if our consciousness hasn't caught up to the fact that humans in the Information Age live much longer than we’re programmed to think?
In the 1900’s, the average life expectancy for a male in America was 46.3. Women got a few extra years, 48.3. As the nation grew, so did the life expectancy, little by little. By 1920, the average male lived to be 53. Slowly the age went up to the 60’s by the late 1940’s and when our fathers were born, the average was at an all time high of 66!
This meant that during the advent of our entertainment, business and advertising sectors, people really did die between 40 – 50 years of age, quite regularly. So it was true back then that if one didn’t achieve their dreams by forty, they only had a few years before Death arrived and it was all over. With time, this sort of thing became the expectation—and our dreams, hopes and visions as a people went with it. But along with the growth of our nation came improvements in health care, vaccinations and medical innovation. Science has changed the game.
Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that life expectancy has gone up, even in the past few years. In 2009 it was 78.6, in 2010 it was 79! This means that we’ve gained an extra 30 + years in a little over a century! And it certainly means that life isn’t over at forty and if you buy into that lie, you have almost forty years of waiting around for a death that just isn’t going to happen as soon as you think.
It gets even better. In my own circle, many of the grandparents are nearing 100 when they die. In our family alone we had a grandmother live to be 92, another almost 97, an uncle who was 96 and a third matriarch who passed at 101!
When I look at these numbers I don’t feel the least bit old at forty-two. Not even close. Hell, I’m not even halfway there. I look back at all I’ve done in four decades with the satisfaction of knowing that I get to do all that, and more, in the four decades to come. Imagine it! All the people I’ve met and all the people I’ve yet to know. All the things I’ve seen, and the big wide world still waiting. All the love I’ve shared, and the intense amount of love I have yet to experience. It’s like I have a second life that's just begun. In many ways, my questions are those of the high school senior. What shall I study? Where shall I live? What's my next step as I venture out once again?
Of course, Death can take anyone at any time. Accidents happen. Cancer, heart attacks and other modern plagues are concerns. But if we’re aging naturally, which is how most of us are going to experience life, then why in the world do we race to get it all done by forty?
Personally, I can’t sit around for the next sixty years assuming I missed my chance. Every precious minute of my life is my chance.
It’s time for us to re-boot our life expectations, embrace our humanity and expect to live much longer than we ever have on this good, green Earth. Life isn’t over at forty, or fifty or even sixty. Life is long and we’re all better for it.
Besides, I haven’t even begun to take into account the Singularity, which we all know is just around the corner…