Happy Birthday! The first of the boomers turned 65 as of January 1, 2011. Hard to believe, isn’t it. We always thought that we would be young forever. Social Security? Medicare? Not us! Boomers don’t age. The first of of were born in 1946, and for the next 19 years, about 10,000 boomers will cross that threshold every day. Most of us will hold off the thought of turning 65 through exercise or Botox or face lifts or liposuction. And we will never cede our youth to calendar years or statistics.
However, the fact remains that seventy-nine million baby boomers, about 26 percent of the U.S. population and there is no turning back the clock. So what is interesting about this statistic is that boomers will all march into their 60’s with varying degrees of acceptance.
Certain buzz words may sting worse than the chronological number of 65. “Old,” “older” stings. What about social security or medicare? Ouch! That means I’m included in an aging population. Sixty-five is usually associated with the “R” word – retirement. We’re young, for God sake, and retirement means I’m old, therefore, obsolete. No one wants me. I’m invisible in society. I’m the last to be waited on at the cosmetic counter.
Retirement stings – either forced or voluntary. Of course, some of us won’t speak of retirement because our savings are are not what we thought they would be at 65 and we have to continue working; some of us will continue to show up for work out of fear that we might be left behind at 65. It’s important to remain relevant and hip and with it and part of the fabric of our community. We don’t want to turn into unfulfilled, self-absorbed boomers who are racked with self-pity. Some form of work provides identification to our psyches. Most of us won’t want to exit the job force at 65 or 66 and sit in contemplation until the end of our life – except my therapist who chooses to do so.
Since the last of the boomers to turn 65 will do so in 1964, it is not clear that we can ascribe a cogent set of characteristics to the entire boomer generation. I was born three years before the first set of boomers were born, but I do lump myself in to the boomer generation because I’m not typically a World War II baby. My frame of reference growing up includes all that is typical and familiar to that those born in 1946. I was raised in a more nurturing, child oriented environment. I could be seen and heard in polite society. Dr. Benjamin Spock was my mother’s guru. While I learned something of human relationships via the television, I was treated to the finer subtleties of life through the movies. Yet, I wasn’t captivated by marketing or advertising and never begged my mother endlessly to buy me an angora sweater or a poodle skirt. Because my parents were still old-school when it came to raising children, I wasn’t convinced that the way to get through adolescence was through rebellion. “Rebel Without A Cause” was not my favorite movie. I was taught that one worked very hard to get what wanted or needed and kept a keen eye on book learning. There were no free lunches in my world.
Of late, there has been a lot of talk about the depressed state of boomers. Perhaps those boomers born later were fed the “entitlement” line – as in I’m entitled to my large pension, to my full 401K, my bailout, my medicare, my social security – were heavily disappointed when it came time to cash in or cash out. “Show me the money!” Well, guess, what? The money isn’t all there, along with the expectation, the demand, the freedom of choice. Today, these are not always options in our lives. Maybe boomers thought all that “stuff” would keep us young and carry us forward to our heavenly resting place. And it’s a pity that for some of us that it didn’t pan out like that, but it’s not the end of our boomer world.
The end of the world is thinking that we are still entitled to our fair share even though we might have made some bad money decisions, even though we might have been let go from our jobs before their expiration date, even though our economy tanked two years ago or more if we were just paying attention. Life is not always a level playing field.
I’m still working. I’m even planning to create other sources of income. I’m still excited by life at 67. At 67 my parents were still building homes and condos and apartment buildings. I remember them being so very young at 67 that I couldn’t imagine them getting old and they really never did get old because life was still a joyous ride for them until the end. Those two people married during the depression and persevered to make their lives better and richer and more creative. And they set the example. They were the gold standard.
So boomers are young and vital still. It’s a mind set and a vocation to be 65. If we are settled financially, we can volunteer and give back and make the lives of others more fulfilling. There is joy in enriching our lives at any age at any time. If we lack access to full funding for our later years, we can create many positives in our life. I just read an article about a Los Angeles poet who got laid off from her job at a museum and is now blogging about stories of people who have lost their jobs but who are making positive contributions to their lives by working differently and making a difference. We all possess tenacity and creativity if we just look deeper within ourselves.
Boomers don’t have to make a wholesale redefinition of growing older. We are any age at any time as long as we don’t buy in to labels, to statistics, to depression, to the mantra of the bad news on television. Turn off the sound and listen to your heart. That is where eternal youth resides.