Aging Up: Gaining Skill Points and Leveling Like a Boss

Aging isn't as bad as I thought. A picture of me sitting in the woods making a peace sign and winking. My daughter is on her bigwheel in the background.

I have white hairs.

I’ve had some of them for many years now. Other people don’t notice them, but I find them. My hair has always been light enough and had enough variation in its natural tone to easily camouflage a few colorless strands unless you look closely. I didn’t keep track of the date, but I noticed the first one somewhere around the age of 25. I wasn’t sure at that point whether I was actually seeing signs of aging, or whether my highlights had lightened more. Truthfully, that was probably a bit of denial.

When I was young, I had a lot of expectations about how getting older would make me feel. I thought it would be terrifying – that every white strand and every wrinkle I found in the mirror would hit like another tick of a time bomb counting down. That was the example that was set for me by a number of women that I looked up to. Whether it was older coworkers or those in my social circle, any evidence of aging would cause distress and complaint. In my twenties, if I spoke about my fast metabolism or my flexibility, I would hear the response “just wait.” They said it as a warning. They were telling me that the comfort I enjoyed inside my body was going to dissipate over time. It scared me.

You Can Embrace Aging, But Not Escape It

I shouldn’t have listened so intently to all those prophecies of doom. Everyone has a different journey, and once I let go of that fear, mine has become a lot less stressful in that regard. I’ve come to trust my body. We’ve made a deal. As long as I take care of it, it’ll do everything in its power to keep taking care of me. We used to fight a lot when I was younger. I’d continually push myself to my physical limits, and in response my body would break down, getting sick or hurt. I’ve learned to listen to the messages it sends me and take heed. Learning to be gentle with myself has made that part of aging easier so far, and I have faith that that will remain true.

Me in the woods on a bright sunny day with a big smile on my face. There are some wrinkles visible at the corner of my eye.

Of course, I’ll slow down like everyone else as time goes on, and I can never be certain of how gradual that will be. I’m becoming more okay with that idea. I’ve watched the frustration and then desperation that can arise in people when they rail against the inevitable with all of their might. It looks exhausting. No matter how much energy you pour into that battle, it still isn’t one that you can ultimately win. Whether we maintain a strict lifestyle or use chemicals and surgery, aging eventually outpaces our ability to combat it or hide it.

I’ve decided I don’t want to fight against it. That effort can be much better spent elsewhere. I find less stress and frustration by approaching this with curiosity instead of resistance. If I close my eyes to it in denial, I’m never going to see all the amazing stuff that happens along the way. For instance…

I’m Way Cooler Now

I have no idea when it happened. Somewhere along the line, I turned into the kind of person that I really wanted to be. I recall the specific moment that prompted my awareness of that. One morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that the ensemble I had on wasn’t something I would have had the confidence to wear in public ten years ago. However, I would have stared in awe of a stranger wearing it as they walked past. The more that I thought about it, the more certain I became; ten years ago, if I had met someone who thinks and behaves the way that I do now, I would have idolized them. That understanding feels really good.

Me with a big smile, lying on an air mattress in the back of my SUV while car camping

At many points in my life, I haven’t enjoyed being me, but right now, I do. I’m comfortable with my personality and my identity. I’ve reached a point where I’ve learned what I do and what I don’t like, and I don’t feel ashamed about which is which. My interests don’t have to please anyone but me, and I’m glad that I’ve finally figured that out. It took a long time, and I do still benefit from the occasional reminder, but learning that lesson was a freeing revelation.

When Each Year Feels Shorter, You Learn to Prioritize

There were times in the past where I pretended to like things that I didn’t. It could have been a television show, a sport, a band – if I thought that a feigned interest might facilitate conversation and possibly impress, I was liable to expend that effort. That was before I realized how much effort it really took. It requires both time and mental energy to consume content and follow updates on any topic. Personally, I find it more far more draining when it’s not a subject I’m naturally drawn to, and I don’t believe I’m alone in that.

As I get older, every year feels shorter than the last. It makes my moments feel more precious, and I would rather spend them accordingly. I have more than enough hobbies to keep me captivated throughout all my free time. Why bother wasting opportunities to experience that joy? The potential boost to my social prowess simply isn’t worth it for me. At least, not anymore.

A knitting work in project sitting on a picnic table at a campsite
Pattern: Bosc Pear by Tetiana Ortruta Designs
Yarn: Chroma Fingering in Cousteau

I’m trying to turn the same treatment toward my responsibilities where I can, too. Back in December, I left a place of employment where I had once been very happy. I was lucky enough to be able to do this, as it was not my only means of income. The place had begun to change its direction, and the path was no longer aligned with where I want my life and career to go. I loved my coworkers and made many memories I hold dear, but I took the obligation off of myself. I liberated my personal resources to devote them to other endeavors that will bring me closer to my goals. My vision of the life I want to build is solidifying every day. I’m taking the steps to walk toward it, and sometimes that means unburdening.

Aging Means I’m Winning

I’ve written about some of my mental health struggles, including my OCD. I’ve spoken less about my history with depression. Over the course of my life, my brain has not always been a pleasant place to live. In fact, at times it was absolute hell. It took me many years to figure out how to interact with – even coexist with – all the demons in here without getting my butt kicked by them.

Truth be told, when I was young, there was so much darkness inside my head that I never believed I would reach the age of twenty. Whether intentionally or accidentally, I expected to find my end well before that. I didn’t, and that came to me as an enormous surprise. Every year since has been an utter shock. The fact that I am now thirteen years beyond that point (and counting) leaves me stunned. I did that, even though I never had a shred of faith that I could.

Learning to tame that darkness took a lot of work over a lot of years. The older I get, the more time I’ve had to do that work, and the better I get at it. Obviously, there’s always work to be done, and some phases will still be hard, but I have so many more tools and resources than I once did, and I’m continually accumulating more.

I’m winning now just by aging, and I’m learning from the experience. Every white hair and every wrinkle serves as my proof. They aren’t the ticking of a time bomb. They’re my trophies, and I’m proud to display them.