"Grandma, you're weird." That was my granddaughter's assessment as I stepped off the train in Edinburgh a few weeks ago and planted a kiss on her cheek. As is always the case when spending time with a 5-year-old, the next few days were filled with near misses, endless "whys" and unexpected tears -- both the good kind and the bad kind.
For the first few hours, I found myself subconsciously battling my granddaughter's energy. I tried to apply order and steer our conversation to more "useful" topics than "why do dogs eat poop?" But, as usual, after a few hours, I found myself loosening up and enjoying the experience. By the end of the weekend, I was walking around with a stupid grin on my face, exhausted but feeling 10 years younger.
On the way home, I started wondering why we become so darn serious as adults. Do we subconsciously rush to fill the roles that society gives us? Or, do life's practical considerations conspire to make us conservative and just plain boring? Looking at pictures from the weekend -- and, yes, many of them involved chocolate ice-cream -- I asked myself, "Why can't we act more like 5-year-olds in our 50s?"
Ok, I'm not saying that I would like to actually be a 5-year-old again -- honestly speaking, I was the worst painter in my class. And, baking cookies? Don't get me started! That said, here are a few ways that all of us could benefit from reconnecting with our inner child.
Do You Remember How to be Curious?
5-year-olds are an endless source of "why" and "how" questions. They have an insatiable desire to understand how the world works. By the time we reach our 50s, many of us have had our natural curiosity beaten out of us. The older we get, the narrower our focus becomes.
Life after 50 gives us a second chance to get out and explore the world. For so much of our lives, our focus is on other people. We are raising children, navigating careers and trying to hold our marriages (and our own sanity) together. Now, in our 50s, we have the opportunity to be curious again.
What fascinates you? What questions have you always wanted answers to? What passions have you always wanted to explore? What would your 5-year-old tell you to do? Well, "go for it!" of course. What's the worst that could happen?
Do You Talk to Strangers?
Kids are naturally trusting -- sometimes too trusting. When I was raising my own two boys, it took months of repetition to get them to promise not to talk to strangers. Even then, I'm not sure that they really "got it." It isn't until we get a little older that we start to fear the consequences of being kidnapped, or worse.
By the time we reach our 50s, we have taken social interaction to the opposite extreme. We sit on the bus, with our head buried in our phone. We quickly look away from anyone who dares to make eye contact and smile. "Yikes! What did that weirdo want?" Our natural desire to be social has been beaten out of us by a lifetime of broken hearts, dashed expectations and badly scripted TV dramas. It's a wonder that we get out of the house at all!
The truth is that life is so much safer than we think it is. No one is going to bite your head off if you talk to them on the train. Nine times out of 10, the exact opposite is going to happen. Like wild animals, people are usually much more scared of you than you are of them. I can't tell you how many amazing conversations I have had simply by giving someone a genuine smile.
Isn't it time that we undid some of the social programming that was forced into our brains as kids? Isn't it time that we start talking to strangers again? This is exactly what I hope my latest project, Boomerly, will become - a playground where boomers can meet people who share their interests. There are so many amazing people out there, who share our passions, values and hobbies. We just need to let them into our lives.
Do You Love Your Body?
When you're 5-years-old, your body is the greatest tool you own. Ok, sometimes you don't really take care of it properly, but, that's not the point. For a child, his or her body is a wondrous machine. By the time we reach our 50s, it sometimes feels like we are dragging our bodies around rather than following them into new adventures.
It doesn't have to be this way. Some of the fittest people I know are in their 50s and 60s. To feel amazing after 50, you don't need a new body. You need a new attitude.
The difference between being 5 and being 50 is that getting the most from your body requires conscious effort. Our lives are filled with desks and gadgets, not swings and water balloons, so, we need to seek out new places to play. Go for a daily walk in the park. Take up weight-lifting, like 77-year-old Willie Murphy. Offer to walk your neighbor's dog. Whatever you do, do something! Get out of the house and make the world your playground.
Do You Have Your Whole Life Ahead of You?
It's a good thing that 5-year-olds are immortal, because a lot of the stuff that they do is really dangerous! When you're a kid, you have your whole life ahead of you. Death is a distant concept. It just doesn't even register. At age 5, you dream of being a fireman, or an astronaut or a doctor. Life stretches out in front of you into infinity and you know that there is nothing that you can't accomplish.
As you get older, life's realities start to sink in. Your parents push you towards "good" jobs and try to protect you from yourself. Some of us follow our dreams, but, most of us compromise and take the safe path. By the time we reach our 50s, it's easy to feel like we are in the final phase of our lives. Our careers are coming to an end. The world expects us to "age gracefully." What nonsense!
Would your inner 5-year-old tell you that your life is almost over? Or, would he remind you that you can do anything that you set your mind to? According to the Social Security Administration, if you are a 55-year-old woman, you will probably live about 30 more years. Think about where you were when you were 25. That's how long you probably have left on this amazing planet.
How you spend this time is up to you. Will you "act your age" and spend your days watching TV, sitting still, and complaining about the state of the world? Or, will you embrace your inner 5-year-old and see the world as your playground? Will you pursue your passions as if your whole life is ahead of you? Will you learn to love your body and stimulate your mind? Will you take a chance and talk to strangers? If you see me on the bus, I hope that you do. I'll be the one wearing the t-shirt that says "I'm not in the last stage of life. I'm making a victory lap!"
What have your grandkids taught you about getting the most from life? Do you agree that too many of us have forgotten how to play and be curious after 50? Please tell us in the comments and join Boomerly, our new initiative to help baby boomers make friends.