Midlife Cues: What's Wrong With the Word "Still"

A version of this essay first appeared in Midlife Cues, a weekly newsletter about intentional living in our middle years. Get it in your inbox; you're going to love it.

Change is the one thing constant in our lives.

This isn’t breaking news. We’ve known this all our lives. But it doesn’t stop us from wishing things remain the same or that they don’t change as fast.

I hear this desire loudest in my family when we talk about how fast the kids are growing up. How can it be that they are teenagers now, learning how to drive?! Soon, they will be off to university and out of the house. ☹️ We keep wishing there was a way to stretch the time so we can enjoy them more before they fly the coop.

I couldn’t wait to get older.

When I was in my teens, I couldn’t wait to get older. I couldn’t wait to finish HS and get to college. Then, I couldn’t wait to graduate and start a new life, whatever that may be.

I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. Get to the legal drinking age. Rent my first apartment.

Were you the same way?

And this didn’t change throughout my 20s, 30s, and 40s. “I couldn’t wait…” for so many things to happen.

The first true love and first real relationship. Getting married. Buying our home. Buying my first car. Then my dream car. Getting promoted. Then again. And again.

So many, I can’t list them all here.

And then, it stopped. Or rather, it slowed down. Somehow, somewhere in my late 40s, I stopped feeling the anticipation for new things happening.

Instead, I started to feel the desire for more and more things to remain the same.

The Tyranny of Still

Dr. Bill Thomas, the co-founder of ChangingAging — a platform that challenges conventional views about aging, wrote about the tyranny of that other word, ‘still.’

He says this word is one of the most disabling and demeaning five-letter words in the English language. It derives its power mainly from our culture’s collective fear of age and aging.

Everyone understands this game and knows how it’s played. Nieces and nephews boast, “My Aunt Myrtle, she still drives.” Sons and daughters brag “My Dad, he’s 82, and you better believe it, he still works five days a week.” Not even great-grandchildren can resist — “Ohpah turned 94 this month. He just got back from climbing Pike’s Peak. He’s in Florida and he still water skis— barefoot— in the nude!”

Thomas notes that we live in a society where older people are deemed worthy only to the degree that they think and act like younger people. And when they can no longer still do the things that adults are supposed to do, they disappear from society.

The word “still” is intended as praise but actually serves to wound and diminish older people. The prominent place it holds in our lexicon, reminds us that, when it comes to people living in the latter decades of life, success is defined by the absence of “change, interruption, or cessation.” It is a peculiar conception of human life that equates “success” with a lack of change. Our use of the word “still” reveals an ordinarily unstated assumption: In contemporary American society, any deviation from the parameters of vigorous adulthood, by definition, carries the stigma of failure.

Changing my attitude

Although I’m decades away from Dr. Thomas’s point in his article, I get it loud and clear.

I realized a few years ago that if I didn’t change my attitude about aging STAT — as in, not wait until in my 70s to change it  — it will continue to seep into my day-to-day life and color the way I see the world from hereon.

I didn’t want that! Instead, I want to embrace this part of my life, marvel at the changes happening within me and around me, and be surrounded by equally-minded people who are celebrating each phase of our lives.

It takes work. It takes owning and addressing my fears. It takes change.

But then again, change is THE constant, right?

Bottom Line

We are all getting older. ALL OF US. No matter how we look or how we feel. And it’s a blessing, too, because if we’re not getting older, we’re six feet under.

Rather than fighting it or hopelessly holding on to years long gone, isn’t it better to embrace this stage in our life?

The more we show that we’re accepting and living well in our midlife, the more we help shatter the stigma of aging. If you think about it, it’s one way we can help the younger generation look forward to their midlife. Wouldn’t it be amazing if that’s the legacy our generation leaves behind?


Suggested Readings

  • The goal isn’t to cling to youth as we get older but to keep our joy alive by tending to our inner child while nurturing our connection to the present, changing world. It’s about balancing “wisdom with wonder, confidence with curiosity, and depth with delight.” Aging is inevitable, so why not do it joyfully. Here’s how.
  • Sara Smeaton, creator of the Power Years, talks about how we can develop and increase trust in ourselves as we go through midlife. “It is what allows you to take risks and let go of what’s not working anymore. It supports bold choices and quietly creates a truer, more fulfilling life.” Developing Self-Trust in Midlife.

MULL IT OVER

“What if instead of seeing aging as something to defeat and conquer, we were to embrace what gets better with age and work to amplify these joys while mitigating the losses of youth? I’m not suggesting we paper over the very real challenges, both physical and mental, that come with aging. But can we view these challenges without judgment or shame and instead look for joyful ways to navigate them?” — Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness”

ABOUT LOU BLASER

A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Midlife Cues and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on exploring how to navigate, thrive, and turn midlife into the best phase in our life.

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