While some people grow older with grace and maintain their beauty, others age like a curse has been put upon them. But, eventually, we will all start to resemble rotting jack o’ lanterns in both appearance and smell. Your pants start to slowly creep up your body and you become increasingly concerned about the state of your lawn. I may, technically, still be a young man but I can sense the passage of time starting to chip away at the best parts of me. I used to go on dates with gorgeous women but it’s probably just a matter of time before I’m sending them creepy anonymous emails instead, like so many of my friends’ dads.
Getting older often means allowing novelty to be slowly superseded by nostalgia. You start talking about “the good old days” which was a time when music was better and people had their priorities in line. It was also a time that never existed. You’re suddenly afraid of new ideas and angry about things that don’t quite fit in with your loose dogmas. You’re worried about keeping a job that makes you unhappy so you can continue to afford living the lifestyle that you’ve grown accustomed to, while expecting the rest of the world to do the everything exactly the same way. This is how wealthy fifty-five year olds can complain about subtle tax increases from the bow of their yachts. It’s an incredible and mystical process.
This might not affect everyone on the planet, but it’ll happen to enough of us to really cause some serious problems. Voters and politicians everywhere fall victim to it every day. There are already a lot of people that are much more worried about their living room furniture than how they treat other people, let alone broad social issues or more complicated philosophical concepts. I know this because QVC and the Home Shopping Network have based their entire businesses model off it. For a lot of us, getting older means not worrying about changing the world anymore. New ideas will be a thing of the past and problem solving will become impossibility. If you know anyone’s parents that own a dog, go to their home and watch how they interact with it. They’ll just yell and yell and the dog will bark and bark. They’ll try absolutely nothing and spend zero hours thinking critically or problem solving. In fact, until a friend or the television offers new advice, they’ll actually claim to have tried everything. So often it seems like anytime someone tells me that they are getting older, they are really just telling me that they’ve decided to start giving up on things. There is no conciliable way that can end well.
There is this culture of cannot that is at the heart of getting old. This is why there are millions of old people that never figured out how to use the internet. That’s sort of criminal because if there ever was a demographic that had a lot of free time and money to spend on online shopping and pornography, it’s the elderly. But they just couldn’t quite figure out that dag-nabbed computing machine. Chemically speaking, your brain actually does get worse and worse at handling dopamine as you age so you derive less pleasure from learning a new skill. But that doesn’t really excuse you entirely from becoming so out of touch that people mouth “wow” to each other behind your back every time you finish a thought.
Rest assured that tomorrow’s youth will always know more than your generation will. While you’re too focused on prime time television and work to bother educating yourself on anything new, they’ll be learning your history while simultaneously mastering the future. You’ll be reminiscing like crazy about how soft toilet paper used to be while the rest of the world is deciding upon which retirement home to put you in. If that isn’t a good reason to stay active, relevant and thoughtful, I don’t know what is. But the worst part about getting old isn’t having food perpetually trapped in the corners of your mouth or possessing a smell that is reminiscent of pee (which we all know probably is pee), it’s the potentially wasted life that leads up to that point.
Some of the best conversations that I’ve ever had have been with an old person over coffee. Sure, you have to deal with the occasional impressively racist sentence, but it’s worth it in the end. After retirement they reacquire the gift of having a real conversation about life, and they always give me the same advice about it. They say not to waste my time working for a big organization, not to let other people’s rules box me in, build quality relationships and consider all time as “my” time. This advice is in direct contrast to almost every single adult I knew as a child and most of the ones that I know now. Nobody has to be trapped in a job they hate, surrounded by mediocre people while their thoughts stagnate in a mental swamp. You don’t have a lot of time to be wasting. So you can take all of those little reminders that you’re getting older and use them to keep yourself motivated or you can use them as an excuse to move into that culture of cannot.