Aging, Ageism and Limiting Beliefs

A limiting belief is brutal. It’s like walking into an invisible wall. Kapoof! You hit hard against it and have no idea what it is that you’re up against. All you know is that you can’t move. Limiting beliefs can impact us from many possible places: our family, friends, culture, media, boss, peers, community and society. They impact us sometimes to the point where we believe and internalize them, making them our own. For example, a friend who is contemplating retirement a few years from now said that she’s not wanting the “playing-golf-and-going-on-Alaskan-cruises-kind-of-a-retirement”. Who ever said that that was what retirement is about? Who decided that? Maybe it was a combination of the travel industry, financial investors and golf courses from a few generations ago. Whomever it was, they thought that this is what constitutes fulfilling retirement and leisure for someone who is no longer working. Is it true? Not for everyone but it’s become a prevalent belief which some retirees and others have internalized.

I was thinking about this regarding ageism, or age-related discrimination, and the recent explosion of “anti-aging” language. It wasn’t always this way — older adults were respected before the second world war. If anything, the world was adult-centric and elders in the family and community held authority. I have a theory actually, about the change which I’ll explore in Part 2 of this series.

Consider the notion of “old” in other contexts:

Old furniture are called antiques. The desk or drinking glass that was used 80 years ago is seen as valuable and valued, evoking history and stories of time past.

Old homes have a sense of history. They come with stories, lives lived, memories, and lots of character. They need extra maintenance which their home owners prepare to invest in order to stay in their beloved home.

Old restaurants give us a sense of familiarity, comfort, a community of staff and regulars, and demonstrate resilience and sustainability.

Old books are considered classics and are well-read, well-loved, shared with others, favorites to savor over and over again.

When it comes to human beings, older adults are seen as wise, experienced and the keepers of history but they’re also perceived as rigid, closed-minded, ugly, unattractive, asexual, shapeless, frail, vulnerable, having little purpose, not contributing to family or society and even a burden.

Few people I’ve met call themselves elders, even fewer call themselves old. How can we grow old “gracefully” if there is an underlying message that we should not age or grow old?

So what accounts for this “anti-aging” shift? I’ve been exploring this topic for a while now and something happened recently that gave me a new perspective. Stay tuned for part two of this series...

And how about you, what are your beliefs about retirement? What does old mean to you?

If you’re interested in finding out what others think, check out my interview project called “Our Thoughts on Aging” where I ask these and other questions to adults 21 and over.