Tara Tiger brown / photo by sean bonner

Age Is Irrelevant Until You Hit 40

Over-the-hill and out of sight

For my Dad’s 40th birthday party all of the decorations; napkins, plates, cups and banners, were embossed with a bold, orange headline that read, “Over the Hill.” I was 14 at the time and remember thinking how incredibly old 40 sounded. My Dad had gray, thinning hair and was over-weight which made my ageist opinion all the more true.

Over-the-hill means you have hit the climax of your life and you are now past your prime. You have reached the top of the hill and have now begun your journey down towards, well, let’s be honest, down towards death.

I have always had a difficult time with getting older and in fact believe I suffer from gerascophobia, the fear of getting old. I don’t know if the fear of getting old is hereditary or learned, but my Mom suffers the same anxiety, she doesn’t like telling people her age because she doesn’t want it to define her or how people perceive her.

There are people out there that have no problem whatsoever owning their age. They are the same people who at 65 confidently dress in the latest trends, and are proud of who they are and what they have accomplished. They embrace life.

I couldn’t find a Fear-of-getting-old Anonymous group so I’ll make my confession here: my name is Tara and I’m turning 39 years old next month. There, I said it. That was a big deal for me. I never put my year of birth on any website profiles and when I get carded I always look closely at the person checking my ID to see if they are in shock at my age or snicker because I’m too old to be going to da club.

How do I get to that place of security where age doesn’t matter to me? What do I have to do to be proud of myself regardless of how long I have to scroll to find my year of birth? If blasting out a 10 pound baby without any drugs didn’t do it, what will?

Whenever I see a girlfriend out loud and proud about their age I want to ask them why they are so secure about it, but I fear that they’ll ask me why I’m not. Or remind me of all of their world changing accomplishments and how effective they have been on their time on this earth.

Although I am terrified about turning 39, I’m horrified about turning 40. For me, it really comes down to worrying that my younger peers think I’m too old to do anything worthwhile and I’m no longer capable to play an active role in society. Oh look, it’s that old Tara person trying to insert herself into our younger person conversation. She’s too old to know what she’s talking about.

I should probably pause here and be clear about something, I don’t judge anyone else about their age, I am quite fond of elderly people, I just judge me. In fact I like to tweet out stats like, “more people in their 40s and 50s start businesses than any other age group.” I hope that it will become viral and being 40 and 50 will be in vogue and then I don’t have to worry about comparing myself to those super beings featured in the lists of 20 under 20-somethings that managed to scale Everest while starting the next billion dollar startup and save 10 orphanages from shuttering.

I will sheepishly admit that there is one little thing that I have going for me. As an Angeleno, ironically, I am not scared of getting wrinkles. I have been told time and time again that I look younger than I am so I can at least let people think I’m in my early 30s for a bit longer. That doesn’t change the fact that I am starting to crave early bird breakfasts. I’ve been falling asleep around 10pm and waking up around 5am and all I can think about is a bowl of oatmeal and side of fruit to chase down my 10 horse pill-sized vitamins.

My birthday is at the end of the year, so for all of 2013 I’ve been watching my friends from school face their demons as they celebrate their last year in their 30s. The good news is that no one has imploded yet. They are still breathing, working and chasing their dreams. The bad news is that I think it has been increasing my anxiety as I hold onto feeling like I have one year left to accomplish something amazing.

It’s not that I don’t feel like I didn’t do what I came here to do, it’s that I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t feel like I have quite figured it out yet. There’s this feeling that something is always bubbling just under the surface and it hasn’t had enough heat yet to make itself known. I want a guarantee that I will continue to be capable when I am over the hill, into my golden years and beyond so I can be there when the bubbles finally burst.

I hope that 10 years from now when I look back on this piece of writing I’ll laugh at myself and say, “what a silly little girl, worrying about such things when there are far more important things that lie ahead.”

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ― C.S. Lewis

* If you are interested in research being done on ageism, I recommend reading Ageism: Prejudice Against Our Feared Future Self.

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