They say that every day is a learning opportunity. With that in mind, here are five life lessons that I learned about aging in 2014.
1. Small aches can sometimes be ignored.
Growing older is not a pain-free process. Knees stiffen up. Feet sprout bunions in protest of shoes. And fingers that once flew over the keyboard with the greatest of ease now sometimes cramp up.
Most likely, none of this will kill you, which is why I say: Do your best to just keep moving. One of my biggest worries is that I will step on the medical treadmill and not be able to step off. You know, become one of those people whose life is structured around when they see their doctors.
I fear it's an easy trap to fall into. This year, I developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot. I consulted a doctor since not being able to walk without pain definitely put a crimp in my life. I had orthotics made (two visits) and had six weeks of physical therapy (12 visits). I also spent 15 minutes a day doing exercises faithfully and yes, the problem did clear up. But think about it: My foot hurt and it took 14 medical appointments to fix it.
What also happened during that period was that my treatments gobbled up so much of my spare time -- a limited reservoir to start -- that I saw fewer friends, had less fun, and worried more about myself than is probably healthy. The staff and other patients at the PT office became a sort-of surrogate social life. Showered with by their attention and basking in their endless concern about my sore foot, it started to feel good to go there. I don't want that to happen (although I do miss getting my foot massaged).
2. Your doctor is only as good as his or her front office staff.
When we were kids, the doctor was a solo practitioner and his wife ran the front desk, made the appointments and did his billing. This, thanks to the demolition of the health care delivery system, is no longer the case. Now, doctors work for medical conglomerates, are inaccessible to patients by design and their front office staffs are either untrained in customer service or hired for their ability to not bother the doctor with your pesky communications. You call and are immediately put on hold before you can get your name out. You have to chase down your test results because they don't reliably call you with them. They regularly lose things or don't deliver messages. If you need a prescription, it takes a week of calling for the message to get through.
In 2014, I got myself a new doctor. He emails me directly. For real. If I have a question, I shoot him a short email and he responds quickly -- no charge. Not surprisingly, my medical records are also online and his office staff is pleasant and capable.
3. Too many people (still) turn to plastic surgery thinking they'll be happier.
My favorite Mommy blogger recently asked her minions on Facebook this question: "Silicon or saline?" She added "This is for a friend. Please don't judge." Sorry, I am judging.
When I last checked, the request had more than 50 comments, most recommending one choice or the other. I wished there was a "none of the above" box to be checked.
I especially hate it when older women get Botox needles stuck in their faces or go under the knife to remove sagging neck skin. We can always tell. The sad part is that some think that looking younger will make them feel happier.
Our beauty comes from within. If it matters to someone that you have crinkles around your eyes, why are they in your life?
4. Retirement looks different now.
Retirement used to be a decision you made and you controlled when it happened. It was something you saved for, made a plan for, and counted on your employer's help doing via a pension. When it was time to go, the boss ordered your gold watch and you dug out the cruise brochures you'd been collecting. You were done with work.
Then it got complicated. Retirement, if it does exist, doesn't resemble its old self anymore. One reason is that we are living longer, healthier lives, and are at risk of outliving our savings. We feel younger than our years and so it makes some sense that we want to extend our work career. Throw in a recession that drained savings and put stress on our assets, and you have a bunch of baby boomers who are still going to the office every day.
People about to retire are now asked about their next chapters. No cruise brochures are involved, but starting hobby-based businesses may be.
5. Aging improves your attitude.
When I go on a trip, I used to always pre-pack. I would drag out everything in my closet and try it on, then make neat stacks of yes, no, and maybes. The process took hours and invariably, I always wound up packing just my most comfortable clothes, the ones I wore every day.
Aging's secret miracle is that your attitude changes. You know intuitively to go straight for the comfortable clothes and can skip the trying on everything else part. You weed through your relationships and leave the toxic ones behind. You drive a car that works for you, not the neighbors. You live in a place that impresses no one but yourself. You learn to say no to requests and demands on your time and money. You want to waste neither.