If you’re anything like me, thinking about hopes and dreams goes into overdrive around your birthday. Over the past few years, I’ve treated my birthdays like mini New Year’s celebrations: The older I get, the more focused I've become on my personal goals and resolutions. That goes double now that I'm turning 30. So why does a milestone birthday make us look deeper within, even if it’s technically just another year? I intended to find out by speaking to 50, 60, 70 and 100-year-old women.
In honor of transitioning from a 20-something to a 30-year-old, I wanted to gain the wisdom, insight and truth that can only come with age. Leigh Ann Peltoma, a 50-year-old mother of four, sisters Stephanie Brown, 60, and Deborah Cureton, 70, and Ruth Schwartz, who celebrated her centennial in June, shared the lessons they've learned while turning their respective milestone ages.
With my generation, there often seems to be a checklist with which to gauge the pace of your life: a check if you’re married, a check if you have kids and a check if you love your career. Well, I’m not yet married and don’t have kids, but I have felt the pressure to check off those boxes at the turn of this new decade, even though I feel content as I am.
Brown, 60, who isn’t married with kids, assured me that I shouldn't succumb to external pressure. “You don't have to have all the checkboxes checked to be happy as you travel through this journey, because life is what it is," she said. "And when you look back and you see, OK, that didn't happen for me. But this did. And I'm OK with that.”
I sometimes feel there are expectations upheld by society that dictate what people in different age groups need to be doing with their lives at any given moment. Social media can perpetuate that myth with hashtags like #over30. But longevity can often put things into perspective. Cureton, who is now 70 years old, said her perception of age has changed over time.
“Personally, I don't think 50 is old anymore … I used to think 70 was old. I'm so glad I was wrong," she shared. “It's not like you have to ... sit down and take yourself out of society; that you just sit out and do nothing.”
“Age is more than a number," Brown agreed. "There used to be a saying that says age is just a number, but it's more than a number. It's more about how you feel.”
I think that’s a great reminder for everyone, no matter your age. It’s not about the number you’re reached or how many boxes you've checked for that age bracket, it’s about living your life and how that life makes you feel. Not everyone is on the same path; life would be boring if that were the case!
When I asked the ladies what they would tell their 30-year-old selves, Peltoma’s response hit home. “I would tell my 30-year-old self to take the leap and take the trip and to do all of the fun things," the 50-year-old said. "There was a point in my 30s that I sat back, waiting for things to happen. And I hit a point where I stopped doing that. And I made things happen … don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen.”
It sounded familiar. As a single, now 30-year-old, I had hopes of reinvigorating my adventurous side and planning a trip. I'd always mentally reserved Greece as a honeymoon destination, but this summer, I've decided to push that narrow view aside and stop waiting around for someone or something to happen to me. Instead, I'm going make the plan to take the trip myself.
If there was one sentiment shared consistently throughout our conversation, it was that living a happy life is a choice, an attitude and an outlook. And 100-year-old Schwartz reinforced the lesson we were all forced to learn over the past year and a half: “If you have your health, they say you have everything.”
So, what do you get when you put five women from ages 30-100 in a video call discussing life and age? Empowerment. Gratitude. Joy. After chatting with these ladies, I feel empowered to make choices and take trips, I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to finish my 20s and start a new decade and I feel ready for my next act. Now I plan on passing that optimism around.