25 Apr Ideas: Why We Are Stilll “Kicking Ass”

By Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh

Let’s face it: our society has invented a verbal straightjacket for aging people.

The language that has come to define growing older may be well-intentioned but it’s restrictive and can be self-deprecating, insulting, assumptive and even cruel.

“So, you’re retired! What are you doing with your days?”

“I’m too old for that.”

“She’s having a senior moment.”

“Oops, gotta run to the bathroom!”

And it’s not always other people’s comments, it’s our own ready-to-use defense mechanism or built-in excuse, like when we’re worried about age performance (“Can I do this as well as I did 20 years ago…should I even try?”).

But the truth is: every time you self-identify as old, doesn’t it affect you, somewhere deep inside?

Each time you dismiss something and use your age as an excuse — whether it’s real, or in jest, or just a toss-off — you are making yourself less than who you were before.

We’ve always lived in a youth culture

Let’s face facts

Historically, society has not been on the side of those of us leading the charge of the Silver Tsunami. Marketing, advertising, fashion, movies, the media — they are all still salivating for the 18-35 year olds.

We get it. After all, we were the prime marketing target as we tripped through Elvis and the postwar boom; Woodstock, free love and getting high; and the Me Decade, complete with lava lamps and fondue. There was even a time when we didn’t trust anyone over thirty. Old people, to be honest, was about them and not us!

Here we are moving into older ages but guess what? We still have that spirit within us, kids, so don’t automatically address us as “senior citizen”, “retiree” or “old fart”. Those are labels from society’s mouth, not ours. They lead to being pigeonholed as possibly too old to do something younger people do.

Let’s be real: we’re still going to ask for a senior discount at the movies. But to be defined as a “senior citizen” or “retiree?” No thanks.

Now it’s still our time

While the world around us is busy dismissing the over-50 set, we need to be emphatically positive about facing our age — yes, with both its bonuses and it limitations — and embrace it with newfound joy and the gusto we’ve always carried within us.

After all, we’ve been there, done that. The young are the ones who don’t know themselves like we do, who’ve not yet enjoyed the richness of long and stalwart friendships and relationships, who prefer screens to face-to-face.

We like what Madeleine L’Engle, the author of the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, said: “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

Now you’re playing sports with a different group, because you’ve been designated by age, not talent; getting emails about reverse mortgages instead of adventure travel; social invitations begin to include you only with others in your age group — not an array of people of all ages with different viewpoints and stories to tell.

Intentionally or not, we do little things all the time that are designed to give us confidence, make us feel better about ourselves, act as badges of self-esteem. A great haircut, a new suit, checking our posture, keeping current by reading the new book or seeing the movie that’s in the zietgeist.

These things, packaged together, make you, you, a you that keeps improving upon yourself. Everyone else notices: “You look great.” “Nice suit.” “That’s an interesting take on that novel.” Take note of the things you do and the comments and compliments you receive that make you feel great — and work on dismissing the words and deeds from our culture that don’t.

How We Are “Still Kicking Ass”

Both of us have worked hard to steer the constant conversation about age from being detrimental to our psyches. After more than thirty years day-to-day in the kitchen, Emily, a James Beard Award-winning pastry chef, has shifted her culinary career to cooking at fundraisers, designs dessert menus for Big Night Restaurant Group in San Francisco, is a James Beard Foundation Trustee, and is studying the art of making chocolate.

Every time someone asks if she is going to stop working, she answers, “Why would I stop now? I’m having too much fun.

Erin recently moved back to her hometown after forty years in New York City. When old friends say, “Hey, so you’re retired now!” she always answers, “No, I moved, and I’m doing something else,” and tells of her part-time job and whatever book she’s currently writing.

Growing older is an art, and we each have to be mindful and constantly aware not to get stuffed into the cubbyhole that society (and younger people) want to put us. In our book, SO WHO’S COUNTING?: The Little Quote Book About Getting Older and Still Kicking Ass, we focus on empowerment, positivity, and humor.

Offensive jokes about losing your eyesight, sagging body parts and creaky bones are not to be found. Our mantra isn’t, “Let’s sit this one out.” It’s “Still Kicking Ass.” We’d rather think like Anna Quindlen, who sees herself not as a dusty antique, but as a work-in-progress. She insists, “A finished person is a boring person,” and we agree.

We should all be thinking in the future, not the past, tense, like tenor Robert Breault:

“The older you get, the fewer things it seems too late to do.”

Because while the world around us often treats us as invisible, we’re plotting and planning. People our age need to enroll in Ian Fleming’s school of thought: “Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” (And who knows more about adventure than Ian Fleming?)

Now that sounds like someone who understands the art of aging — or rather, the art of living life.

The truth is, when you look around, you see — and hopefully feel — that older is getting younger all the time. Which makes us want to heed musician Patti Smith, who is determined to ignore the language of others, and rule by action:

“I want to be around a really long time. I want to be a thorn in the side of everything as long as possible.”

A very appealing thought, don’t you think?

Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh are co-authors of “So Who’s Counting? The Little Quote Book About Growing Older and Still Kicking Ass,” published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.Emily Luchetti is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning pastry chef and cookbook author. She lives in Sausalito, CA.  Erin McHugh is a former publishing executive and author of 30 books on everything from inspiration to history, kids books to trivia. She lives in South Dartmouth, MA.


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