Just a few months ago, I turned 66 years old and spent the day celebrating with my family and dear friends. I took a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. I had a big slice of a homemade Betty Crocker cake—a sweet tradition in our family. And in between heart-melting snuggles with my baby granddaughter and belly laughs with the people I love most in the world, I had a revelation: This was the first birthday since my 20s that filled me with joy and hopefulness for what was to come rather than a sense of loss of my youth.
I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately. So many of us are grieving the loss of loved ones due to the pandemic. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of life as you knew it before Covid, or how easy it used to be to do things like go out to eat, travel, or see a Broadway show. Many of us are grieving for our country right now, which feels more divided than ever before. What I’ve realized is that the more comfortable I can get with grief, the better. That’s a tall task, considering grief isn’t modeled in our society. But what I know with certainty is that embracing the fact that grief is a part of life is crucial—especially as we get older.
I’m not sure you ever really get comfortable with grief, but you can learn how to understand it—and how to survive it. I used to be terrified of the death of my mother; I didn’t think I’d make it through that loss. Then she passed away, and while it hasn’t been easy (on some days, I’m still overcome by the loss), it’s helped me see how life goes on. It’s helped teach me how to ride the waves of my grief. It’s helped me understand grief just a little bit better, which helps me face all kinds of losses—people I love, opportunities that pass me by, old identities that used to serve me—with more strength and even a sense of wonder.
My ever-growing curiosity is why I decided to interview more than a dozen people on how to age well, and how we can rethink the aging process so it fills us with a sense of hope, not despair. My birthday landed shortly after I’d filmed the Radically Reframing Aging Summit, and its inspiration motivated me to do my part in rewriting the narrative about aging in our country as well. Here’s how I’m trying to do that.
1. I’m pro-aging—and officially ditching the term “anti-aging” from my vocabulary. The old storyline about aging—how we need to “fix” ourselves or do everything in our power to look the way we did when we were in our 20s and 30s—needs a major revise. Unfortunately, the media continues to perpetuate that old, tired storyline, and it’s prompting too many of us to downright dread getting older. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m on a mission to rewrite that story as I live it.
I worked with my daughter, Christina, on the Radically Reframing Aging Summit. At the end of our three days of filming, she shared with me how inspired she felt about getting older. She told me that at age 30, most of her friends already say they feel old—and that the summit made her rethink that notion. It was the best compliment I could’ve received because it showed me her generation is looking for wisdom and inspiration from others on how to age well. It felt like proof that all of us can believe our best days are ahead of us.
Now, being pro-aging doesn’t mean I’m giving up on wanting to look my best! It just means that the end goal isn’t to look as young as possible. I’ve started to pay more attention to my skin thanks to my daughters, who’ve turned me on to clean products and remind me of the importance of sunscreen. They also encourage me to think about what I wear (I’ve added beautiful dresses to my wardrobe in recent years!), and all of my kids prioritize clean eating and remind me of the fact that good food makes you feel good. All of this helps me not just look vibrant but feel vibrant as well, and that’s what’s important to me.
2. I’m not working toward retirement. When I was a kid, I never heard the word “retirement.” My house was always filled with people of all ages who were working in government, social justice, and nonprofits. My parents worked tirelessly on causes that were important to them, and they were still flying all over the globe well into their 80s trying to change the world. Even as my father was battling Alzheimer’s disease, people he worked with in the Peace Corps came to visit him to talk about what they were doing. That was my model, and I believe it’s one all of us can learn from.
The idea of working for retirement just feels so off. Our cultural idea of retirement—aging out of a job and not working anymore or working with the main goal to stop working at a certain date—leaves so many vibrant people flailing for purpose. Instead of retirement as an end, we should think of it as a springboard to a new stage. Did you work for decades not doing something you really enjoyed but that paid the bills and helped you raise a family? Once you’re able to stop doing that job, you have an opportunity to ask yourself, What do I want to do that feels meaningful? You have a chance to do something that feels fulfilling. What will that be?
When I was considering launching a company with my son, Patrick, so many people told me not to do it. “Why would you become an entrepreneur now?” they said. “Aren’t you ready to take a break?” My answer to these questions was and remains clear: No! I’m so proud of Mosh, the mission-driven brain health and wellness brand we created—and I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun it’s been working with my son on this project and how it’s deepened our connection. I try to work on projects with people I love and care about and see myself continuing to do that.
Rather than count down the days until you can retire, why not think about the new opportunities every birthday presents? Are you living a wildly authentic life? If not, what can you change so you can answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”?
3. I’m embracing how much more time I have now—and trying to make the most of it. I’ve never felt freer than I do now. When I think about why this is, it’s because I spent so much of my 30s, 40s, and 50s doing things that filled me with joy and took a lot of time and energy. Raising children, building a career, being in a marriage, caring for my aging parents—all these things were big parts of my life. Now I work with my kids, but I’m not raising them. I work on things my parents started, but I’m not a caregiver for them. I’m single now, too. All these things that were such big parts of my life are now behind me, and I have this wide-open field that’s now in front of me.
Now that I’m not building my day around carpool plans and parent-teacher conferences, I’m building things I didn’t have a chance to build before and doing things that spark my curiosity—things I hope will change the conversation. I founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM), and I’m on a mission to raise awareness about this devastating disease and figure out why it impacts so many more women than men. I built Shriver Media to produce documentaries, films, and all kinds of content that inform, inspire, and ignite people to build a better world; I created The Open Field book imprint with a goal of publishing voices that rise above the noise and light the way forward for others. I am working on so many projects that keep me feeling engaged, continuously learning, and working with people who excite me.
I am using this newfound time I have in my 60s to live a life of purpose. And even if what I set out to do isn’t realized in my lifetime, my hope is that at some point someone else will pick up where I’ve left off.
4. I’m taking small steps every day to improve my health span—not just my life span. When I interviewed the great neurosurgeon and longevity expert Dr. Joseph Maroon, he said, “I want to die young as late as possible!” I love this. With advances in healthcare, we’re all living much longer than ever before. Yet it’s not just about how long we live but how good we feel as we get older. If you have your health, aging is a great gift—and to keep your health, you have to put in some work.
Every expert on aging I’ve ever talked to has told me that the small things you do every day to improve your physical, mental, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional health really do add up to big gains. Of course, the sooner you prioritize your health the better, but it’s never too late. You can always take steps that’ll have a positive impact on how you age.
I eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible in addition to the occasional indulgence (sugar is my weakness). I move my body every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block or a pre-dinner dance party with my granddaughter. I drink loads of water.
Just as important are the things I do for my emotional and spiritual health as well. I meditate every day. I try to have one meaningful connection with a friend every day. And just like my parents did, I surround myself with young people! I love hanging out with all of my kids and my grandchild. It reminds me of the importance of playing and creativity. It helps me feel young.
While none of us know how long we have on this Earth, we do have the power to take steps toward optimizing how we feel during the time we get.
5. I’m thinking about aging as a gift, rather than something to fear. The gift of getting older, how blessed we are to age, is a message that gets lost when we talk about aging. What a shame.
That’s not to say fear isn’t going to emerge as we get older. There are so many unknowns, which all start to feel a bit closer than ever before. However, just like it’s essential that we actually look at our grief and get comfortable with it, it’s crucial that we do the same with what we fear.
When I spoke to William Shatner about going to space at age 90 and asked if he was afraid, he replied, “Heck yeah, I was scared!” When I asked him how he pushed through that fear, he told me about his commitment to saying yes to the things that scare him the most. “You’ve gotta say yes,” he said. “You’ve gotta get out. And you’ve gotta do that even though you’d rather sit and watch TV. If you’re living your life as you get older and you’re frightened by things, you’ve gotta say yes.”
I believe one of the keys to feeling like aging truly is a gift is to continue to stay curious, try new things, and not let the number of candles on that birthday cake prompt you to say no more than yes.
6. I’m remembering that how I think about aging has a direct impact on how others may think about it, too. We have so many role models right now of people doing incredible things in their 80s and 90s. Look at Warren Buffett running his company in his 90s and Frank Gehry designing the most extraordinary buildings in his 90s. Tony Fauci is leading us through a years-long global pandemic. Nancy Pelosi is at the top of her game. Ageism exists, to be sure. But I believe the best way to counter that is to be a living, breathing example of how to age well.
We all have the power to rewrite the narrative about aging in our society, which will create a ripple effect. My generation is a revolutionary one. We have been through so much; we are survivors who are here to prove that you can be broken and fail—and still grow, and change, and lead with love. The way I see it, we can either grieve the loss of our youth and inspire our young people to feel sad as they get older, too—or we can reframe how we think about aging so it’s something that ignites excitement and hope for our future.
I know what I want my granddaughter to think when she blows out the candles on her Betty Crocker cake when she’s in her 60s, 70s, and beyond. And I’m going to do everything I can to set the kind of example in my own life that I want her to follow.
Who’s with me?
To learn more about how Maria Shriver is changing the way we talk about aging, join her free online event, Radically Reframing Aging: Today’s Groundbreakers on Age, Health, Purpose & Joy, which will be available for viewing Feb 28–March 4.
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