As I subscribe to the PBS Encore.org notifications, I received information about an opportunity to submit a response to The American Portrait experience questions: (1) Does age or life stage define you? And (2) How are you using this time in your life to create a better future? I found that defining myself as an older person in an ageist culture was complicated.
Age and Life Stage: Do They Define Us?
My initial response to the first question was that neither age nor stage defines me. But the more I thought about it, the more nuanced my response became. I am an active, healthy, sixty-eight-year-old. My life defies stereotypes. I am also in what some call “the third chapter” in life. I feel like I have finally reached a point along my journey where everything I’ve lived has come together.
Yet, to some degree, both my age and life-stage defines me. I cannot run like I once did. I can jog or walk but not without knee discomfort. My vision isn’t what it once was. I look like an older person. In my mind, I might think I am a decade or two younger, but my body knows that I am slowing down and parts are starting to wear out. At my stage of life, my priorities have shifted and are more typical for people who are older. I am now more focused on serving a purpose and leaving a legacy.
At the same time, I’m aware that my life is embedded in a culture that is very ageist. Some people see my age rather than seeing the active, healthy me. Some in our culture may also tend to view people at my stage in life as a drag on resources and see me as a societal burden. Others sometimes define me by age and stage in life. I have to be careful not to internalize such limiting views that individuals in our culture may hold.
Creating a Better Future for Others
When I was in my early fifties, I made a major career change because I wanted to do something that was meaningful for me; I chose to help others find their voice through teaching speech communication. After I retired, I started focusing on ways I could help others feel more empowered.
I want people who are over fifty to feel more empowered than ever; that’s why I like sharing what I’ve learned about positive aging. I believe knowledge is a type of power we can share.
I also am discovering new ways I can encourage others to feel empowered by supporting social justice causes. I participated in my first march in January 2017; I participated in the Women’s March in Portland, Oregon because I believe women’s voices still need to be heard so that we can all live our best lives. Recently, I participated in a Black Lives protest as a way to support empowerment through social justice, reform, and equity.
How would you answer the Encore American Portrait questions?