My yoga teacher handed this photo out in a recent class, along with this question: "How old would you feel if you did not know your age?"
Now, it felt as though this class were made just for me, because I am turning thirty this week, and as anyone who has approached a milestone birthday knows, there is a lot of reflection and self-evaluation going on as you approach the day.
My teacher went on: "What would you do if you didn't know your age? Would you be saying, 'I should do this,' 'I can't do that?' If you didn't know your age, would you just simply live, doing what your heart guided you to do?"
I know that I've felt this sense of "should" and "must" and "can't" in my own life, and often it does have to do with a number. "Oh, by 27, I should be at this stage in my career," and "After 30, I can't wear this or that." The woman above is evidence that this kind of thinking is usually bollocks.
I think people use age as a rationalization for not taking responsibility over their own lives, making it an excuse for not acting, when really the reason is fear. About the only thing I can think of that is truly age-determined is a woman's fertility. (Which does make a woman's decision making process that much more complicated. But it still isn't an excuse for not living your fullest life.)
Instead of using your age as an excuse, use it as a reminder.
- Remind yourself that time is passing. This is not a bad thing to remember! Sometimes, our lives can become so routine and similar that it may feel like Groundhog Day--each day is the same one, lived over again. Confront time, and resolve to acknowledge the finitude of your life. A little birthday jolt may not feel great initially, but if you don't turn away, it can be exactly what you need to sort out your life.
- Acknowledge your responsibility over your life. You're an adult, and no one--not your mom, not your spouse, not your boss or kids or dog--can make a change for you. You are the only one with the power to change your life for the better. So another year has passed? Big deal. You can get cracking on change today, and have a much better life by next year.
- Remember that you are not just the age you currently are, but all the ages that have come before. Think of your past years as the chambers of a nautilus. You have moved into a new year, but it is in addition to what has come before, not a replacement. What good does this do you? Think of the time you did something very brave because you weren't old enough to know better. You still have that person within you. Think of the kid who used to laugh uncontrollably when someone told a silly joke. You are still capable of that, too. Summon your experiences to aid you. You'd be amazed at all the things you can do and that you've accomplished if you only took the time to remember them.
- Remember that life is a gift. Even in the darkest moments, that we have the chance to mess up and try again is an enormously heartening thing to remember. Of course things will go badly sometimes, but hey, you're still here. These conditions are temporary, and even better, you can change them. And, even if you can't change your conditions, you can change your perspective on them.
- Remember that life is fun. No matter how old we grow, we have a child inside us. We have the ability to see life as play, which many child-development specialists have said is the most important kind of learning kids can do. This is why I intend to go mini-golfing on my 30th birthday. Treat the kid inside you every once in a while to some fun or goofiness, and youth will always be yours.