Age is Just a Numbers Game

 A 30th birthday napkin from the Writing Man's celebrations

Few people get excited at the prospect of watching their twenties recede into memory. Most worry about the loss – however symbolic – of things like 'youth', 'freedom' and 'carefreeness'. They see their hopes, dreams and potential disappear over the horizon, careering all the while toward a middle age perceived as inescapably mundane.

That's the impression I get anyway.

Having practically arrived into the world with the mental age of a man in his mid-thirties, I am definitely one of the few. Certainly, I’m prepared to embrace the onset of my fourth decade rather than resent its crushing inevitably.

Whether that makes me the best candidate to write about - to try and offer advice about - turning 30 is debatable, but it was my birthday the other week and the only qualification that anyone needs is to have reached the landmark in question. Not that there’s a shortage of existential wisdom on the internet, including this entry on AskMen.com (a website whose byline is: Become a better man). Its opening gambit certainly sets the tone:

Here's the thing: you have absolutely no choice but to embrace ageing.

Because, of course, getting older is not about dealing with simple numbers. It's about accepting a change in your looks and dealing with the physical effects of getting older. Isn’t it?

Targeting an article about ageing towards men is no better than any of the ones I found written for women, but three decades of redoubtable masculinity(!) mean I at least feel able to comment on the former. Turning into the wizened husk of a man way past his prime was not a possibility that crossed my neurological pathways. But then, by many standards, I’ve been lucky.

Two years ago I started running and haven’t stopped since (in a manner of speaking). While my health has improved to the point that I'm fitter than I ever have been, I’ve also found my writing confidence, and the two are so intertwined that it is impossible to pick them cleanly apart.

The crux is that I've created more 'stuff' since the age of 28 than I did in the first 27 years of my life. It makes me wonder what stopped it from happening sooner. Looking back at the years after I left school, in other words, I wonder what the hell I was doing with my time.

None of this is boastfulness, just a demonstration that positive change isn’t confined to the first half of anybody's twenties. Boosting my creative output introduced me to a community of people for whom their early-30s was the moment to start realising their true potential. They made life choices that prioritised independence, fulfilment and genuine happiness over a stereotypical status quo.

It's a community who would most likely say they aim to become a better person, so they probably aren’t the target demographic for Ask Men! Mr. Hoare, meanwhile, seems more concerned with using his article to prove the vitality of his post-teenage years, rather than getting excited about the alchemic potential of adding a little maturity to the still-fresh impetuousness of youth:

If you’re not at least a little reluctant to move on from 29 to 30, then that means you did something wrong with the last decade of your life. Your 20s are, or at least should be, an incredibly fun time. Hell, when I was 21 I picked up and drove across the country for an entire month with three of my closest friends.

The article's best efforts at reassurance about getting older include assertions that a man’s looks improve with age, and that the advantage of fatherhood is the financial potential of turning your children into the next Justin Bieber. A mildly amusing observation to some, maybe, and perhaps meant ironically, but it struggles to come across as such.

Instead, it conveys an attitude of pandering to shallow consumerism. Appearances count for everything and life as you knew it – all that fun you used to have – is over. Now you’re nothing more than a machine for working and earning enough money to keep yourself happy.

Well, however you define ‘fun’, and however you elected to spend your years from 20 to 29, regrets are as inevitable as they are pointless. In this case it is the misguided regret that spontaneity is somehow a thing of the past; that getting older equates to ‘being boring’. If that’s the case then I can’t help you, other than to say: Get over yourself.

Regrets should, preferably, come from being a little bit older and a little bit wiser. Rather than what we can no longer do, better to dwell on the missed opportunities that should have been grasped at the time.

Perhaps the maturity to recognise the possibilities in those opportunities was lacking, so the true beauty of getting older is to learn enough from them to do what truly fulfils us. Age expressed as a number, or in terms of physical change, is irrelevant. Age is a state of mind, and even the Ask Men article works that out by the end:

Never let your best days get behind you. That’s called giving up ... I dig what I see in my rearview mirror, but I’m also pretty damn psyched about where my car’s headed. Do yourself a favour and enjoy your ride.

Had things worked out differently then I might never have found my health and creative spark. Our decisions and actions make us what we are, including being grateful for what we have got. So celebrate your next birthday, whether it’s a landmark or otherwise, and remember that every day deserves to be lived positively, healthily and happily – even if that includes using the word ‘dig’ in a context other than with a spade!