Aging and Agency
If you’re lucky, aging just happens to you. And if you are determined, and not stricken by disease, you don’t have to lose your agency as you age. You can remain in charge of your life. You can act and think for yourself.
The derogatory stereotype of aging assumes the opposite--that as soon as we hit 60 we can no longer make our own choices. That stereotype has no factual basis. We will not let it define us. We challenge it, and anyone who adopts it. We are not incapable or irrelevant. We do not need others to think or do for us. We are our own agents.
Most of the people we know of our generation, thanks largely to advances on the nutritional, health and medical fronts, are vibrant, interesting, and engaged. Each one of them is different and has chosen a different approach to living this stage of their lives. But we have observed that there are a few things they have in common. These things form the foundation for their lives and their agency.
- They have imposed discipline on themselves, and have assumed obligations--an exercise regime, or showing up for classes, or doing work.
- They have a community of friends. They take the time to have live conversations—not just by email or Facebook--face to face or by phone.
- They want to expand their knowledge, their horizons, their frames of reference. They challenge themselves and their beliefs. Their minds are active. While they may have firm opinions about some things, they are open to what the changing world has to offer.
- They have purpose. It might be taking care of someone else or work or doing good or learning something new. Whatever they have chosen, it gives their new lives meaning.
- They are aggressive about their independence, protecting it and exercising it at every turn.
None of our friends is a parody of her or his former self. They are the same people they have always been, only more so. Some are struggling more than others to find meaning in their new circumstances. Some have challenges that impact their choices, like caring for a loved one. But all of them are adamant about remaining firmly in control of their own thoughts and actions, rejecting any efforts by others (including children) to take one iota of that control away.
By exercising our freedom to think and do for ourselves, we will defy the old stereotypes and their stigmas. And one day those stereotypes and stigmas will fade away, to be forgotten historical relics that exercise no influence over modern retirement.