I've been wearing a fake smile for the past few months, pretending I don't really care. I mean, 50 is just a number, right? But when I'm alone in front of the mirror, I anxiously try on the idea of being this old, like kids try on grown ups' clothes.
The other day I ran into a friend who just turned 50. We laughed at our mutual fate and then it got quiet for a minute and he asked, "So how do you really feel about it"?
"Fine," I lied, "it's really not that bad."
I saw a hint of compassion in his eye when he said, "Don't worry, it's a big age that comes with big insights."
"So give me some tips," I said.
"I'm not sure my insights will be good for anyone else", he smiled, "but I thought a lot about what's next, and decided that the most important thing is to stay relevant".
I smiled back and nodded while thinking -- That's it? That's the big insight?
For a couple of days I wondered -- have I totally missed his point? What does "being relevant" mean, anyway?
I opened Merriam-Webster dictionary. Relevant, it said, is having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand. I even found an example for a use in a sentence: When I called about the apartment, the owner said it wasn't relevant because it's already been sold.
Suddenly I realized that it's exactly the opposite of what I thought. When you're afraid of losing your youth, the reflex is to try to preserve it. But preservation of the past means being fixated, rejecting change, fearing natural development -- all which bring you to lose your relevance. Being relevant is believing that there's a significance to your existence, right at this very moment. And you know something? It's got nothing to do with youth. Nothing at all.
When I was younger I felt insignificant more often than I do today. I'd ask myself -- what's the point of being here, and would it matter if I weren't? Only when I got older I understood how significance was created -- it's there when I believe it exists. It's as simple as that.
Since then, I've been putting in a lot more thought. I'm not only talking about the novel I'm working on at the moment, but about little things we all haphazardly do every day. If it's a post I put up on Facebook, a family dinner I plan, a smile I send to someone I run into, or a present I buy for a friend. I insist on thinking where my energy is really directed, and what I'm aiming at.
I think being relevant is giving significance to everything you do, and then emphasizing it some more. Connecting to your real intention and finding a good motive even if it's just a chore.
I look around at women who are 50 or more, and the irony is that those who cling to the past, aren't really preserving anything. On the other hand, those who let go of silly things that aren't really relevant anymore -- flourish. They're lighter, they care less about what they're wearing or if they've gained a couple of pounds, they don't dwell on what other people do or analyze every nasty comment by every passerby. They know what's meaningless and what's important in life.
The biggest fear in growing old is that you won't be needed, that you'll lose your place. But the thing is -- this is a fear that haunts many young people as well. When I was younger I wanted to devour the world. I still do. But it took me 50 years to deeply comprehend that in order to devour the world, you need to stop and focus on the bite you just took, and to chew on it as slow as you can.
So I'll follow my friend with the big insights and wish myself, Michelle Obama, and every other woman turning 50 the same -- to always be relevant. Being relevant doesn't mean hoping that someone else will think you're relevant, but deciding so on your own. For me, it means daring to touch people with the truth that's not always pleasant to hear. It's knowing that every day there's a chance to change things for the better, and that nothing is too late until you actually die. It's creating big things and little things with a lot of thought and with love, because that's the only way to feel there's a real significance to your life.