I thought growing old would take longer.
-Old guy’s shirt at the grocery store
As many of my blog readers know, I teach ballroom dancing. I spend a lot of my day with people in their 50s-80s, recently retired, looking to fill their work-free days or reconnect with their spouses. I love spending time with the older demographic. They come in for their lessons, doze off to sleep, wake up, knit a scarf, make a stew, find a quarter behind my ear…and off they go.
No, actually. That doesn’t happen at all.
The Metzgers grab at each other’s asses and play Candy Crush in the waiting room. The Sanchezes bring me beers they brewed at home and share photos on their iPhone of the trips they took to China or Mexico. The Watsons…well yeah, I mean, Mrs. Watson does, in fact, bring in her knitting, but she has been knitting since she was like fifteen. And yeah, her chicken and dumplings are really good. And Mr. Watson has found almost four dollars in quarters behind my ears. Maybe I shouldn’t have used the Watsons as an example. My point is…
They are all totally unique individuals, and when I talk to them about their pasts I find something truly astonishing:
They aren’t anything like us — they are exactly like themselves.
We can so easily dehumanize our future selves because we look at old people and think, “They are nothing like us.” We think we are going to morph into an “old person” and doing things for that guy seems ridiculous. After all, you are nothing like an old person.
You aren’t going to make sacrifices and considerations for a future version of yourself that you can’t even relate to. But here’s the deal, kids: you aren’t going to turn into your grandma. You aren’t going to turn into anything. You are going to be the exact same person. That old person was the same person they have always been; there hasn’t been some metamorphosis.
If it’s important to you now, it will be important to you later
My contemporaries often tell me about the things that won’t be important to them when they are 50 or 60 or 70. “I can smoke now to stay slim, but I will quit when I am older because being thin won’t be important to me.” “I can get that massive tattoo on my midsection before I get pregnant because having nice skin won’t be important to me after I have kids.” “I say spend it now, it’s not like I am going to want to travel or go out to eat when I am old, I’ll just be eating string peas and watching Matlock.”
If your figure, skin, and indulging in the delights of the world is important to you at 30, it is still going to be important to you at 50. You know why?
50 is not fucking old!
60 isn’t old. 65 isn’t old. I will go to a yoga class and 75-year-old women will be encouraging me to keep reaching for my toes as they stand on their heads. Not only are 50, 60, and 70 not old today, by the time we are that age, they will be even less old. With 3D bioprinting, ever-improving surgical techniques, that crazy skin glue that they made out of Amazonian snail slime last month (did you see that shit?), 70 is going to be so young we will still be using #adulting.
Ways to stop short-changing your future self
1. Use sunscreen
Yes, I know that you know that we all know that you should be wearing your sunscreen. If there’s one thing that is being crammed down our collective throats, it’s that we should be dripping sunscreen 24 hours a day. We should shower with it, sleep with it, take it to meet our parents, and when the time is right, ask it to spend the rest of our lives with us. So if you haven’t gotten the message yet, damn, girl, get your shit together and then slather it with sunscreen.
2. Save for retirement
If you don’t have a Roth IRA, you are losing money. Not even for your future self, but for your current self. By chucking a couple bucks into a Roth IRA, you can use what’s called the “saver’s credit” on your tax return this year. It’s easy. You can do it through Turbotax. All the money you put in (and sometimes more), you get back. Then, when you are a whopping 59.5 years old, like Andie MacDowell and Jennifer Tilly (you know, clearly old and decrepit…), you can give the middle finger to your job and retire in the Mediterranean.
3. Start exercising
Finding a physical activity that brings you joy is so important, whether that’s belly dancing or yoga or Pickleball or water aerobics. You don’t need to bust your ass in the gym or be an athlete to take care of your body. We all have something that we find beautiful, something that calls to us. If you haven’t found a type of exercise that brings you joy, you are not looking hard enough. Laser tag to juggling, try to think outside the box. Find a movement that you love, and your future self will thank you.
You are and will always be you. Take care of yourself.
Tiara Shelley is the creator of the popular blog Damn Girl Get Your Shit Together. When not writing, she owns and operates a ballroom dance studio in the Midwest.
Image via Unsplash