Hold it in…I still look good, right? The challenge of aging gracefully.

My clothes are shrinking, the mirror’s warped and I can’t be this old.  Impossible.

Ahh, the joy we all face at some point in time with “the coming of aging,” which is quite a bit different from the joyous and exuberant period in life known as “coming of age.”  Not even comparable, as different as apples to oranges and day to night, but inevitable.   Aging for men and women may not be comparable either…I only have the male perspectives to comment on here, having not wanted to raise the subject too often with the female gender for fear of repercussion and injury.  None-the-less, aging is fact of life we all face.

I have often said to myself that the best looking people are those that are comfortable with their age, dressing and caring for their personal appearance in a manner appropriate to their years of life.  They carry themselves with a level of satisfaction and comfort that is desirable.  While other aspects of life surely have an influence on one’s outward appearance (health, family, friends, work and financial security) some people just seem more comfortable with who they are and how they look as they get older.  Maybe not thrilled with it, but comfortable.

I recently came to realize I am not one of those people.  I thought I was, but over the past year-and-a-half someone else has shown up in the mirror.  After doing several tests to be
sure it was me…quick head fakes, facial gestures, sudden appearances, etc…I was forced to accept the fact that it was indeed “yours truly” staring back.  All of a sudden I realized life had caught up with me and that my vision of transitioning to a tanned, white-haired, senior, god-like statesman of a man as I aged was truly a fantasy, a figment of my imagination, hopes and dreams.  My white Irish skin thin and freckled, hair turned grey, years of sun and sunburns from the beaches and yard work, sports injuries and car accidents, scratched eye-glasses and overgrown eyebrows, stress of the economy and other manly woes….well, they were all looking back at me in the mirror saying “Hi there friend, welcome to you.”  And to look in the mirror first thing in the morning before coffee…well, frightening beyond belief…in a slightly humorous sort of way.  My body had transitioned from a reasonably fit, middle-aged forty/fifty year old man to settle into a softer less form-fitting caricature. It seems the belly has kept everything from settling further south with the resulting affect being its outward protrusion to a degree that makes “sucking it in” a constant challenge.

Faced with the reality that I was at a point in my life where the aging process was in full swing, what was I to do to find comfort and acceptance in these natural, albeit unwanted, changes?  In my case procrastination gave way to mild attempts at exercise and a change of routine.  Early mornings at the YMCA (a recall to my early 30’s) rather than my
cherished morning coffee and newspaper at the kitchen table, where short lived as arthritis in my shoulder from car accidents in my early years became restrictive, thus an appreciated reason to return to my morning coffee and paper.  Attempts to reignite my enthusiasm for running, which carried me through much of my 30’s and 40’s, quickly ended with continuous muscle cramps and knee problems, the same ailments that terminated my running in the first place.  I couldn’t imagine myself on a yoga mat humming to my hearts content while my legs, arms and body parts folded and locked themselves into un-natural positions, even though my wife and friends embrace the exercise and its results.  I am from New England and remain far too conservative for some things.

So I pondered the reality of the situation for a time.  My wife keeps an eye on our diet while not being overly restrictive in what we get to enjoy, so I didn’t sense that as a major issue requiring redress.  We are not ones for desserts and chocolates but rather prefer the
calories of a good cocktail or two accompanied by some tasty snacks to start the evening.  That’s a fix, never to change and will be as constant as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening.  I do the yard work each week (mowing the lawn, trimming the bushes, weeding the plant beds, replacing shrubs and flowers) and while it is becoming more of a chore each year I view it as exercise because it always leaves me a bit stiff and sore at the end of the day.

I could increase my walking, which I understand is one of the great methods of exercise as you age.  My wife and I enjoy an occasional evening or weekend walk around the harbor or along the shore and should do that more often.  Golf is a wonderful way to exercise, although the fact that the frustration of the game will kill me some day seems to offset the benefit.  Swimming is another great form of exercise, easy on the joints and utilizing many of the muscle groups and an aerobic workout as well, but we have no pool and the ocean is usually far to cold.  Hopefully someday we will retire to a community with a pool for just
that purpose, although relocating to Hawaii and the warm tropical ocean waters would be OK too.  Aloooha!! We recently bought stand-up paddleboards and are enjoying that form of exercise, most likely as Hawaiian as we will ever get.

I pondered the reality of the situation for even more time.  Prior to the “Great Recession” we are in the midst of I was a successful entrepreneur having operated a small consulting business for the past eighteen years.  I had met with professional and financial success that provided me a level of confidence that was fulfilling as a man.  My goals for early retirement were almost in place after years of hard work.  I felt good about myself, my abilities and my success and carried myself upright with an air of confidence.  The economic downturn had a devastating impact on my profession and business and in time
forced the closing of my office and relocation of my practice to my home office…a converted second floor bedroom, now formally known as the “corporate suite.”  With long days of little to no business activity, interspersed with occasional hectic deadlines given by
desperate Clients wanting everything immediately, my routine and perspective of how my professional life would end was sent topsy-turvy.  My confidence level and sense of
accomplishment diminished due to many forces out of my control and the resulting frame of mind left me unsettled.  I did not have the same “lift in my step” and air of confidence.  In time I sensed this had an affect on my person and the appearance of that guy in the mirror, that the stress of the situation was having a negative affect on my health, my body and my appearance, in addition to the normal “joyous’ aging process.

So I examined the options.  Attitude, exercise and plastic surgery were the three options that jumped out at me.  Of the three, plastic surgery scared me the most.  There are far too many pictures of celebrities and people I have passed on the street that have the unnerving stretched grin of “The Joker” from the Batman movie, unnatural features and that “Halloween costume” look that is just plain scary with eyebrows stretched to their hairline.  I’m not saying plastic surgery and “touch-up” is wrong, not at all.  There are good surgeons and good reasons to explore this option.  I have friends of my age who have successfully pursued this avenue with wonderful results appropriate to their age and it has certainly strengthened their spirit.  It’s just not for me.  I doubt there is a surgeon on earth good enough to transform yours truly into Clark Gable as he appeared in “Gone with the Wind.”  Therefore, if that can not be done, baring myself to the knife is too frightening an option for me.  I’ll just try to grin more, in a natural sort of way.

So I assessed the other two options.  I tackled “attitude” like a charging bull…a 58 year old charging bull with a sagging frame, freckles, gray hair and stiffening joints.  I regained a good deal of my confidence and perspective realizing that I am still making a reasonable living in a difficult economic climate and getting by, considering all.  I am positioning myself to pursue other avenues of work should the need arise.  I prefer to consider myself “partially retired” rather than having a struggling consulting practice, although the guy in the mirror looking back at me doesn’t quite buy that….nor does my wife who continues to work full-time at a time when she’d had hoped to transition to part-time work.  Overall though an improved attitude and perspective on the situation has improved my perspective of myself…a big step in feeling good about who I am and how I look at myself at this age.

I decided that exercise must become a greater part of my life…exercise geared towards my age and my body’s ability and health.  Doing activities and exercise with my wife will reinforce our bond, help us stay fit and improve our outlook of life and ourselves.  I won’t exercise my way into being Clarke Gable, nor the tanned godlike senior statesman of a man I had envisioned, but I’ll be healthy and comfortable in my freckled Irish skin, and that’s most important.

Life throws many curve balls at us as the years proceed, and in my opinion and in the big scheme of things that of our aging appearance is one of the less serious.  However it is important to feel good of ones self and embrace life at any given age, to be happy in ones skin so-to-speak.  The perceived magic of the age defying cosmetics and medicines, the young outfits draped upon the frame of the older person, the “young babe” on the arm of the older man accomplish little in the true perspective and comfort level of accepting age and aging…although the “young babe” on the arm of the older man is nice fantasy anyway!…I’ll pay for that comment, dearly.  I think the real source of satisfaction is to learn to accept ourselves as we are in years, embrace an ongoing passion for life and “go with the flow” as the years pass by.  As I stated earlier, the most beautiful people are those who are comfortable with themselves dressing and caring for the personal appearance in a manner appropriate to their years of life.  I can do that….even if Clarke Gable could do it better.

OK, so I have aged these past years and I am that guy in the mirror.  But I now feel good with who I am.  And yes, I know my clothes aren’t actually shrinking….but I still think the mirror is warped!

G’Day friends, see you next Friday morning.

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