A few years ago, I saw a friend having a panic attack at the thought of turning 30.
Last month, I spent a long weekend at the beach for another friend’s 30th birthday, where the “over the hill” jokes flew thick and fast. I’ve seen people hyperventilate after graduating college at age 22 (“I’m an adult now”) or 25 (“I’m Really old now”).
For me, it’s strange. I never felt anxious about a birthday. I attribute this to my mother’s “rules of aging,” which have stuck with me since I can remember:
- Your 20s are mostly training – they hardly count
- Your 30s is when you know who you are
- You can’t go fast until you’re 40
- You don’t get real momentum until you’re 50
- You probably don’t make your greatest and most life-changing achievements until your 60s.
- At 70, you have changed yourself
- So you can’t get old until you’re 80. And even then it’s not certain
Internalizing these principles will help you feel better as you get older. It can make you healthier and help you live a more successful life, experts say.
“How we perceive our aging process – how we feel [our own] aging — is an important determinant of physical health, psychological health, and even longevity,” Yoav Bergman, a social psychologist and professor of social work at Ashkelon Academic College in Israel, told me.
Take it from my mom, who created these rules 25 years ago and says they’ve been useful ever since.
“Even now, at age 59, I don’t feel bad about a birthday,” he said. “They all came true.”
How the Aging Rules Work
My mother, Corey-Jan Albert, is a “professional creator” in the Atlanta area: part writer and marketing strategist, part playwriting teacher and singer-songwriter.
“I was in my thirties when I did it,” he said. “It started because I was working with someone in their 20s who was scared of turning 25. I’m sure I didn’t even think about it – I just said, ‘Oh, come on, you’re in your 20s? Just practice. They don’t count.’ ”
In retrospect, that’s a slight exaggeration, he adds: Your 20s can have a whole lot of impact and consequences. “Practice” means you get to try new things as an adult for the first time and see how it turns out.
Many people spend this decade trying to figure out their professional, social, and romantic lives all at once. Sometimes it is fine. Other times you trust the wrong friend, date the wrong person, take the wrong job.
That’s why you’re in your thirties. In this decade, you can implement the lessons you learned from these positive and negative experiences. If you’ve learned what you really want in life, you can go after it.
In this logic, sure you can’t be rushed until quarantine. “A lot of this was eye-opening in my 20s, and I really learned to practice in my 30s, that’s when my whole identity fell into place,” my mother said.
As with most age-related concepts, the edges of these boundaries are blurred. Maybe you’ve thought about what you want in life at 28 or 34.
There is no mystical switch that flips when your age ends at zero. Rather, it’s about recognizing that no matter where you are in your life, you always have opportunities for success ahead of you.
When my mother shares these rules, she tends to get different reactions depending on the age of her audience, she says. The younger ones told him: “Alright, I’ll join that, I like that as a concept.”
old man? “Oh, yes, that’s quite true,” they said.
Aging is often seen as losing something: “I don’t think that’s accurate”
For young people, birthday anxiety can mean trying to avoid a midlife crisis. People in advanced countries are the most unhappy at 47.2, according to recent research from Dartmouth College.
According to Bergman, there is another important element in the anxiety associated with aging: fear of the unknown.
“Aging is [often] seen as a time when there are losses. There is no winning. But I don’t think that’s accurate,” said Bergman, who has spent the past decade studying aging-related anxiety.
Big birthdays can evoke a feeling of physical or mental decline, the loss of social relationships, a change in appearance. To hear some of my friends joke, one can begin to fear the existential specter of death that looms ever closer. ICT Tac.
But simply considering the weaknesses of aging can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Last month, researchers from Foundation University Islamabad in Pakistan found that aging-related anxiety leads to lower quality of life and low self-esteem.
The study identified a “negative relationship” between aging-related anxiety and the physical signs of aging. In other words, if you’re anxious about aging, you may be inadvertently speeding up the process. Your blood pressure may rise, the wrinkles on your forehead may deepen.
Age-related anxiety is also associated with increased loneliness and depressive symptoms, Bergman’s disease research found last year. In young people, it can even promote ageist biases against older people — which can become a problem when you get older yourself, Bergman says.
Big birthdays often make us think about what we’ve done and where we’re going, and it’s hard to focus on the positive effects of aging when you don’t know what they are. Putting together that mental checklist can be overwhelming.
But it can push you to live the life you want.
While anxiety associated with aging lowers your self-esteem, it stands to reason that being comfortable with aging can boost your day-to-day self-confidence. “The key is a realistic understanding of the gains and losses associated with aging,” says Bergman.
My mother’s aging guidelines were initially a projection of what she hoped she would follow in life, she said. As he lives through each new decade, each rule moves from prophecy to reality. So far so good.
His/Her message: Forget the saying that age is just a number. “Sometimes those numbers are significant,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making them meaningful in a positive way.”
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