To this very day, I can still hear my mother’s burning admonishment, “Act your age!” From as early as I can recall she had a set of expectations about how we should act, especially out in public. What did it mean to act seven years old, or even ten? I was never quite sure what she meant or if her expectations were even reasonable. But I do know what she really wanted was for me to be still, keep quiet and not “embarrass” her.
Now, at 50 years old, I still don’t know what it really means to act my age. I’ve never been 50 before. I’ve been all the other ages before now, but 50…I’m just getting the hang of it. And I suspect I’m not doing it the way my mother would have expected…God rest her soul.
What if I embarrass myself?
I’m pretty sure that by now I’m not supposed to be taking risks, making big life changes, or mistakes. I should be well into a career that both pays well and uses my skills appropriately. I’m probably supposed to be settled down with a secure and safe situation from which I can grow old gracefully. I would be married, or at least in a stable relationship. I should probably have all of these things figured out by now. But I don’t.
If acting your age means staying in line with society’s expectations for us, I’m failing miserably. Whether you’re 25 or 50, there’s always advice out there about how to act your age, what to wear, about what you should be doing by now, what you should have acquired, and the kind of people you should be hanging out with. But what if your life (like mine) doesn’t line up with society’s definitions of age-appropriate behavior?
Whether we want to admit it or not, we judge people by how well their actions match their age. For example:
“Who does she think she is, wearing a bikini at her age?” “He should have settled down by now.” “You’re not getting any younger, you know.” “Leave that for the younger folks.” “I’m too old to be starting over.”
It’s no wonder we worry about what’s required to earn the number of candles on our birthday cakes.
People often confess to me that they don’t feel like an adult even though they’ve tried to do all the right things. Not only do we focus hard on acting our age, but we’re also usually trying to act far beyond our years hoping to impress others with our maturity. But the more we seek to attain the feeling of being an adult, the more it eludes us. And that’s because it’s our feelings of inferiority that drive us to prove or show others we’re big now.
When we focus too much on earning our years, we become cautious with our lives. We get caught up in meeting other people’s (or society’s) expectations and those may not be right for us at all. We may not find out how wrong they are until later when we’re quitting and starting over amidst the rubble of our carefully curated lives.
Acting your age requires a good bit of self-control, and well…acting. It doesn’t invite authenticity.
At what point do we turn the table on the idea that acting your age is better somehow? I say live your life however you want with little concern for what others think about your age. There is no right way to do 20, or 30, 40, or even 50. Our judgments about age are simply cultural barriers to honest self-expression.
Your age expectations (and what you should or shouldn’t be up to) can stop you from taking risks. They can prevent you from chasing dreams or force you into situations that are simply safe, but not inspiring. And be prepared, the older you get, the more people will expect you to fall into a predictable pattern because that’s what “adulting” is supposed to do, tame us and make us common.
The rules that come along with being any age are not meant for you! If you want a passionate life of freedom and purpose, you have to abandon the rules of aging. When it comes to the arc of your lifetime, stop thinking in terms of solidity and forever, and instead make some room for experimentation and error. Open your heart to the adventure that awaits your unbridled self.
Don’t bother acting your age. Instead, be whatever you feel inspired to be. Do what you want to do. You’re never too old or too young to pursue what you want. Don’t allow anyone to use your age to limit you or keep you in line. And never use your age as an excuse for not doing something you want. We can live our entire lives with curiosity and adventure if we want to; if we’re brave enough to.
I’d rather go to my grave singing, dancing, and laughing than sitting and sighing. What about you? What advice would you give your younger self about acting your age?
~ A Girl on Her Own, Tracy