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A Birthday Post: You are the Age You Act and Feel

Last week I celebrated my 32nd birthday.
Birthdays naturally bring to the surface past reflection, present analysis and future planning. Sometimes this can be exciting, for others scary or possibly even depressing.
I find the day before my birthday I get a little down. As Juliet proclaimed,

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

However, with the advent of Facebook and text messaging, on the day of a birthday, it is near impossible to let feelings of sadness remain from the positive messaging received.
I love birthdays. My own and the celebration of others.
I think back upon birthdays growing up. The parties. Roller-skating rinks, swimming pools, sleep-overs. A gathering of your closest friends sharing rainbow-sprinkle box cake. Magical. Waking up with the closest feeling of excitement to Christmas. A day you felt extra special. It was your day. In my house, I got to pick what we watched on TV and my favorite meal that my mom would make.
As an adult, birthdays turn into a different type of experience. Some go for the all out party, others a small gathering of friends. Many more stop telling others about the day entirely, a select few may even lie about their real age.
Do you embrace your age? The aging process? Growing old? Do you look forward to your next birthday or push that thought aside?
I received some priceless advice from a mentor in graduate school, whom also happens to share the same birth date as me: April 5th. She has come to embrace the process of getting older. Looking forward to the different seasons of life and viewing the passing of time as a celebration.
An article by Evelyn Block at ehow.com offered more advice on how to celebrate a major birthday. Whether you look forward to or dread birthdays, each instruction is a gem.

  • Children can’t wait to become a year older. For adolescents, each birthday signifies more freedom. As adults, it is important to use a major birthday as a time of reassessment.

  • Plan to try something new in honor of yourself. Learn to paint, or knit, try skydiving, or another career, volunteer, or learn to speak another language. Just try something you’ve never done before.

  • If you have been busy taking care of the people you love, carve out some time to take care of yourself. Allow your loved ones to pamper you.

  • When someone asks what you’d like for your major birthday, tell them. People can’t read your mind and you both will be happier if you express your desires.

  • Embrace your own style. By now, you probably know what you like and don’t like. If you want to dye your hair or wear sweats, embrace your personal style.

  • Don’t take anything for granted. Enjoy the small pleasures of your everyday life.

  • Give yourself credit for who you are and who you are still becoming.

I remind myself of this type of wisdom, especially around my birthday. An attempt to enjoy getting older. To be thankful. As I wrote about in my post called, to all my shorties, my height has been quite a blessing through the aging process. On college campuses, I am still asked what year in school I am. Most guesses on my age are in my mid-20’s.
But as a working professional in education, I began to feel on the inside older than I actually was. Wanting to feel, look and be perceived as older in order to be taken seriously, get ahead, etc. Higher Education rewards time. Look at the tenure process, the length of time and activities a faculty member must do to prove themselves worthy to be held at a higher esteem. I have been told numerous times due to my age, looks and lack of experience my goals of becoming faculty will be difficult. Hurry up and grow up.

Then I looked at my husbands industry, entertainment. In this context I began to see a different perspective on getting & acting older. I see 50 year olds, pursing their dreams, embracing life and daily having fun. I also see 30 something’s, entrenching themselves in innovation and soaking in life. In all age groups, if the skills and talent, as well as opportunities exist, they have the potential to become extremely successful.
From these experiences, observation, and reflection, the personal discovery I have made in the last five years is: it is not your actual age that matters, it is the age you act and feel.
Let me clarifying right away, this is not about maturity levels or physical childish behavior. Many of us know a ‘grown adult’ still stuck in teen-like behavior that could cause harm to themselves or others.

I am talking about spirit. Youthful energy. Possibilities. Growth. Openness. Exploration.

As we age, sometimes the trials of life have a way of weighing us down. Little by little, pieces are chipped away. Layers build-up as protective devices. Routine becomes expected. Working for the next paycheck to purchase the next must-have. Spirits dampened, lost, or forgotten completely.
I believe the age you act and feel is a direct correlation of your spirit. Living your life on your terms, doing the things you love to do with the people most important to you. Acting this way will keep you ‘young’ aka happy into your final days.
Based upon this view, age is no longer a number. It is a way of life. Inner belief and a calling, instead of attempting to follow a prescribed numeric behavior. It is living your life without comparison.
For example, if I were to fall victim to what a 32 year old woman ‘should’ be, I would be bothered by the fact I do not have children, a fulltime job or a big house with a backyard. Keeping up with the Jones syndrome.

Do you have age-related to-do’s on your mind? Feeling the pressure to keep up?

So where do I fall on this spectrum?
It would be hypocritical of me to pronounced all these ideas without some honest vulnerability.
I do not write to you as an expert. But I am trying. Recognition is a major step in what I am proposing. It is hard not to fear the aging process.
What I want and need in this 32nd year of life will be one of my own. Just as you should, on whatever chosen path you find yourself on. Embrace it.
So here are to more birthdays. For each passing year. Bringing us closer to ourselves and what E.E. Cummings said,

‘To grow up and become who you really are.”

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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