I turned 60 this week.
There, I said it.
I have resisted writing about this topic, because it means outing myself as a 60 year old and dealing with the perceptions others have of a person this old. Yet, here I am writing about it.
I remember turning 50 and embracing that transition to a new decade. In fact, my still relatively new “girl”friend at the time helped throw a big party for family, for old friends, and for new friends – complete with catering, an open bar, and a DJ. I partied myself into a new decade. In retrospect, being public about that birthday was easy because, as I came to realize, in most cases one’s 50s are an extension of one’s 40s, even part of one’s 30s. It is part of a multi-decade time period of work, professional growth, and raising a family (I didn’t have my first child until I was 40, so I am still not quite an empty nester!), where the arc is still bending upwards. Everyone said that 50 was the new 40. They were right!
This week no one is saying that 60 is the new 50. No one. As I have observed among my slightly older friend and colleagues, the vast majority quietly cross this particular age line–no parties, no dancing, no publicity. It seems to be a way to retain one’s 50s for a couple more years.
One of the reasons 60 is frightening is that this is the decade containing the traditional retirement age–it is only 5 years away. About four years ago I started to notice that more and more of my friends and colleagues, people I consider my contemporaries, were retiring. So, not only is the arc no longer rising, the expectation for many is that it is now on its downward trajectory.
It is here where I should begin citing the examples of those famous people who either started or continued their contributions later in life. You know, like Grandma Moses (the poster child of this group) who started painting at 78 (phew, I still have a few more years to get started on that!).
No doubt about it, I am getting older.
As a runner and physically active person throughout my life I have suffered an average amount of injuries. However, now they seem to be piling one on top of the other; in the past two years I have dealt with a broken foot, knee surgery, frozen shoulder (both of them, but at different times), foot problems, and Achilles tendonitis. I am on the shelf more than I am running on a road somewhere.
It hasn’t helped me avoid a growing sense of my own mortality that a host of celebrities and icons in their 60s or younger (e.g., David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glen Frey, and Bill Johnson) died within the last week or so.
Okay, so what’s my point?
One is that I can’t deny the accumulation of days, weeks, months, and years have now added up to an impressive number. As a fellow 60-year-old (she turned 60 two days after me) said, “It is just a number–a really BIG number!”
Another point relates to a realization I have made in my contemplation of this transition. It is that during our 20s, 30s, 40s, and even into our 50s, often without realizing it, we are closing doors by making choices and avoiding choices of where we spend our time and energy. While doing that we live with the vague belief that there’s still the possibility that we still might… [fill in the blank – get the doctorate, start a family, change careers, track down a former lover, become a VP, publish a book, reconcile with a relative, etc.]. One’s 60s dawns and “time left” becomes a factor, there is no denying that there are things that will never be accomplished; that the closed doors are much more visible. The decade is not for the faint of heart.
My ultimate point is that with this birthday I have received the gift of facing my own mortality. When I turned 50 many people toasted to 50 more years. Well, living to 100 actually is sort of possible (unlikely, but possible). No one (who wasn’t drunk) has toasted to me living for 60 more years. The crazy thing is that I feel like I am just getting started. I am only in year three of a job I love. I work with great people. I love our work in student affairs where we profoundly influence the lives of college students. I love so much of is new and emerging, especially in technology (okay, I gave up trying to keep up with music about 30 years ago!).
I am pretty sure that very close to 100% of the people reading this post are below the age of 60. I invite you to give yourself the gift of mortality. Consider the doors you are closing; the dreams you are deferring. Consciously recognize that our time is not unlimited and let that recognition drive your motivation to focus on those things, those dreams, that matter to you most.
As for me, I am going to kick off this decade by embracing it. I am going to continue my forward movement in growth, learning, and development. Here are my goals and commitments for my 60th year (Yes, sticklers, I know that it is officially my 61st year!):
- Compete in 6 different types of races (5K, 10K, half marathon, sprint tri, Olympic tri, half Ironman)
- Travel outside of the NYC metro area (at least one outside the country) at least six times (not work related!)
- Run at least 64 miles (1296)
- Bike at least 64 miles (1296)
- Swim at least 60 miles
- Reach 60% fluency in Spanish (currently at 9% on the Duolingo app)
- Raise $6000 for a charity
- Contribute 63 hours (216) to service
- Set 6 audacious goals – one for each of the next six years of my job
- Write 6 blog posts on leadership/management
- Write 6 other blog posts (this is one of them!)
- Read 6 fiction books
- Read 6 non-fiction books
- Secure 6 speaking engagements
- Sponsor 6 mid-level professionals
I want to accomplish. I want to grow. But I also want to give back in multiple ways to this profession I love, to the students we all serve, and to the world we inhabit.
I turned 60 this week. Bring it on!