I need your help. I’m meeting a journalist quite soon who will interview me for a book about older women and the wisdom they’ve gained, possibly called ‘Older and Wiser’ (the title could change, of course, as it’s early days).
Now this is very exciting and I’m humbled that she’s asking me, but the thing is, do you think people become wiser as they age? I would say, maybe, perhaps, and possibly for reasons I’ll give below. I mean my work as a nurse, voluntary sector worker, health and social policy researcher and freelance consultant was for a lot of the time interesting and some of the time fulfilling but there was a reason for it – I had to pay the bills. Now I’m free of that I have developed and reinvented myself as a writer and I just simply love that. I mean this is the real me and what I really, really want to do. But does that make me any wiser?
What is being wise anyway?
The thing is there are some theories of ageing that are the absolute antithesis of becoming wiser, such as disengagement theory where it is assumed that as you age there is an inevitable withdrawal from society and the social system within which that older person resides. That kind of makes sense if you think of the very old and frail who have lost relatives, friends and loved ones, who become isolated and are unable to participate in society as they once did. Indeed, as one ages, I mean really ages, there is often not only a loss of motor skills, there’s also a lost sense of everyday popular cultural life. And that can begin to manifest, dare I say it, quite early on. It’s the closed mind, I’m speaking about. Take politics. I mean we all know that old myth that when we’re 17 we’re apparently very left wing but by the time we’re 70 we’re meant to be somewhere right of Genghis Khan, which hasn’t happened to me yet. In fact I’m probably more left wing than I ever was. But you often hear people saying ‘I’m not interested in politics, and yes, I am dismayed by….but no, I’m not going to think about it, at all’ and they could be any age. Disengagement, in my view, starts early.
And I try to not get too shocked when people dismiss social media out of hand, and I don’t mean just Facebook but Instagram ( I really must get going with this) and Pinterest (actually not interested in that so much). Or anything IT related like setting up a food delivery account; an essential in my view as you age. ‘Oh no, I prefer to actually go shopping’ is often what people say, and I’ve led a workshop for older people on exactly that subject, so yes, I only have that very small sample as evidence plus a few other encounters. I take a deep breath when I hear that response. But then, I say to myself, ‘get a grip, you don’t do opera or the theatre and don’t really want to either’, so I am behaving exactly the same as that person who rejects IT related stuff and/or politics.
The thing is we are all so different. The way I see it is that just as we were when we are young so we are as we age. Some older people will want to party, some will want peace and quiet, some will want to garden, some will travel, some will be homebodies, some will engage in their local community, some will live abroad, some will take up new hobbies and interests, some will want to do absolutely nothing, some will dress comfortably and others will dress in sequins. We are so not one homogenous block of older people who think and age the same way.
But maybe, as we age, we have some insights and that I would accept. My insight is that work was a blessing (and I say that because work today is a very different beast from the 60s, 70s and 80s – think the development of capitalism, neo-liberalism and all that) but it was also a burden and freeing myself up has enabled me to develop other skills. At the age of 70 I’m having the time of my life.
One insight I do admit to, gained from my work and from personal experience, is that it is wise to prepare for your older frailer age. I’ll write more about that at some point. But if I live until I’m 80 (and statistically I could) my insights may be very different. What I do know is that retirement looks very different at 70 than it did when I was 60 and still working. Why? Because I’m still working but in a different (unpaid) way!
But am I wiser? That, I’m not so sure about. I think, a younger person might see older women as one large group of older wiser women. Is that the case? Do you see ageing as the route to wisdom? What are your thoughts on this?
Setting wisdom aside what age has brought me is a few grey hairs.
Well, no actually I think my hair might be a definite white colour and although I’ve casually mentioned it in passing, yes, I have decided to go au naturel. But that’s not going to happen overnight. My hair, said my hairdresser, is dyed, therefore you cannot dye it again. What he has done though is given me a white streak at the front and I shall grow it out to its natural white colour, which I think is going to be great!
This growing out phase will take time, mind, well over a year. But alongside this change in my hair colour I have decided to change my overall appearance just a little bit. I intend to keep that slightly tanned look that I have now by using a slightly darker foundation through the winter months (which will be blended in very thoroughly, I hasten to add, with a brush). This plus my dyed eyebrows will counter that pallor that I usually associate with white haired people. And don’t by the way, refer me to models with beautiful grey or white hair with lovely tanned or olive complexions – they’re usually in their 40s and 50s. I’m speaking for and talking about the pallor of the 70+ woman. It was always the lack of colour in and around the face that kept me defying and denying my natural white hair, but I think I’ve got round this by my idea of retaining a slight tanned look with well-defined eyebrows.
There you go with age comes not wisdom but a very keen interest in my looks – but hey, why ever not!
That’s all for now but do let me know what you think about gaining wisdom as we age!
Penny, the Frugalfashionshopper