During my time at AARP, I've had the opportunity to interview women across the country about aging, living and what it means to live a good life. I distilled hundreds of pages of interview transcripts into 4 key lessons to share with younger women. I made each of the lessons into a sticker to serve as little visual reminders.
Many of the women I spoke with felt like they were entering a new chapter of their lives. Whether they were going back to work, shifting into new careers, or their kids were moving out of the house, the ones who embraced the positive aspects of change saw opportunities for rebirth and growth. Others, who focused on things past, felt overwhelmed and scared.
In many ways, how these women described their late 50s and early 60s reminded me of my early 20s, when I had just graduated college and was searching for my place in the world. Their differing perspectives showed me that change can be resisted, or it can be enjoyed—or, like many of us, it can be somewhere in the middle. Those who embraced the flux did so because they framed it as a new opportunity.
Connection is at the center of living and aging. Being without social connection can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In fact, loneliness and isolation can increase the likelihood of mortality by 26 percent.
The women who were flourishing in their 60s and beyond were the ones who committed to date nights with their spouse. They invested in their church group, neighborhood, or book club. They made time to be alone.
Once kids move out of the house and elderly parents pass away, a new spaciousness can enter women’s lives. After decades of serving their families, they finally have time for themselves again, which can be disorienting. How will they use this new time and energy?
Women tend to carry the bulk of emotional support in their families and communities. But it’s essential to carve out quality time and space to connect with yourself. The most fulfilled women I spoke with didn’t dread the emptiness of an empty nest. They saw it as a chanc to dive deeper into their marriage, discover new hobbies, and have more time for friends.
For many of the women I spoke to, at around 50 they began to realize that they have a finite amount of time left. That can be sad. But it can also be empowering. It can nudge them to shift their priorities to focus on what really matters.
We don’t have to wait until our 50th birthday to start to appreciate the time we have. What are the things that matter most to you? Are the things you always wanted to try? The time to make them priorities is now.