By: Joel Kampf, CTA, ICF
I vividly remember that day fifteen years ago. I was standing in a dirt parking area at a resort in Montana where I was celebrating my fiftieth birthday with some friends and family. The sobering thought struck me: I had less days ahead of me than behind me.
My reaction was a renewed effort to become more fit. I didn’t know then that the healthiest change I could make was to rewire my thoughts around aging. I was unaware that having a negative subjective age - seeing myself as older than my chronological age, could literally take years off my life and increase my chances of acquiring dementia or cardiovascular disease.
Fast forward ten years to the summer of 2015. I had just turned sixty and decided to kick off the decade by trying something that I could very well fail to complete… which was kind of the point. I set off to ride my bicycle, solo, carrying camping gear, across the Trans-am bike trail from Washington D.C. to my home in Seattle. I wanted to push myself with the hope that I would begin to see aging with more grace and excitement.
I learned a lot along the way and I met some interesting people. But it was one chance fifteen minute meeting that turned out to change the trajectory of my life and how I saw aging.
After traversing the Appalachians and Ozarks, I continued to grow stronger, and was feeling pretty good about myself when I pedaled up a Continental Divide pass in Colorado and met a guy traveling in the opposite direction. We stopped to chat for a few minutes. He told me that he had crossed the country 22 times before, and just finished riding the perimeter of Iceland… and then he flew to Vancouver BC and rode south to catch the Trans-am Trail on his way to Ottawa via Kansas City and Detroit. He was eighty-two.
He shared that he was a lot slower than he used to be but he didn’t care - he was still having a blast. He refused to subscribe to others’ views about aging - just because people let a number get into their heads, didn’t mean he had to. He said that, “Life was like a basketball game and the fourth quarter was the most fun, so why would I bench myself… certainly not to please others.” And as I gloriously coasted downhill after saying our goodbyes, I realized that I had never even gotten his name, yet he had already become a role model.
Spending eight hours or so in the saddle a day gave me plenty of time to think about that encounter. And I knew I had to act on what I experienced.
I wanted to guide myself and others to live actively all of our lives, which came down to working on three things: fitness, nutrition and engagement and the paradigm shift that life isn’t a dress rehearsal so why not squeeze the juice out of every day?
As an endurance athlete, I’d already researched fitness and nutrition thoroughly, so I had a head start when developing the curriculum around it. My intent was educating others to the basics, helping them develop target goals and working with them to stay accountable. I began to build relationships with trainers and nutritionists that I could refer to clients, if needed.
But developing a curriculum for engagement was another story. So I researched. What I didn’t know was that along with developing curriculum for my clients, I would become an anti-ageism advocate: fighting against active longevity’s most deadly enemy.
From my first read on Ageism, Applewhite’s, “This Chair Rocks,” I couldn’t get over the statement that, “Ageism is the only ‘ism’ that results in people being prejudiced against their future selves.” Which led me to learning about negative subjective age for the first time, and how to combat it.
I learned that true engagement and the antidote to fighting self-ageism was to become a curious, lifelong learner who follows their true passion and shares that passion by having a positive affect on someone other than yourself.
When my nameless, newfound mentor from that Rocky Mountain pass adamantly spoke against letting others decide his fate, he (regardless of intent) was speaking about adult development - which refers to how a person’s thinking capacity and emotional intelligence broadens and deepens through a series of stages. And one of the distinct differences between two of those stages is the ability to think and act objectively, not subjectively.
Do you make decisions based on what you think you know (subjective), based on your stories, emotions and what others will think of you? Or do you act with the knowledge that there are others in the world, and that objectively looking at your life as an opportunity to help “all boats rise” is healthier for all of us.
So along with the key lessons I learned on my Trans-am trip, and developing curriculum around curiosity and lifelong learning, I realized the need to bring adult development practices into my Healthy Aging Coaching Practice. I needed to let go of protective, complying and controlling behaviors that stood in the way of unleashing my true creative and self-aware selve.
Holding yourself accountable to a lifestyle aimed at active longevity (being active all of your life), begins with letting go of your stories and what others may think of you.
As I read in a successful aging book, “Most people, through their Forties, care deeply about what others think. Folks in their fifties, sixties and early seventies, don’t give a crap what others think. And those in their upper seventies, eighties and nineties, know that nobody was ever thinking about them in the first place.”
Ask yourself, why would you want to be benched in the most exciting quarter of the game?