Before you deny your age, think about this

This Thursday, as this blog post launches, I’ll be speaking before five hundred people at IGNITE Seattle for five brief minutes of fame. My topic is How I Dumped Denial: 60 is NOT the new 40.  I don’t want you to miss my earth-shaking findings (In case you won’t be there,), and I’ve added some data I couldn’t sneak into my five-minutes-and-you’re-out talk. My big premise: There are some things that get better with age, so why wander around like a zombie pretending to look like or trying to be an age that you’re not. Seriously, there’s a MOUNTAIN of money behind age-defying, age-denying, anti-aging products. I’m talking about an industry that produces more revenue than the GDP of three-quarters of the countries in the world. $250 billion dollars–much of which aims to keep those wrinkles off your face.

Got wrinkles?

Has anyone considered that those wrinkles might be there for a purpose, like treasure maps marking the path of your soul? You earned those wrinkles, those laugh lines, and those forehead furrows. They reflect your personality and your experience–and messing with them can have consequences. I worked with a woman who does face readings based on an old Chinese system; she has lots of examples of people messing up their lives by “fixing” their features or wiping away their wrinkles.

If you say, “But I want my wrinkles,” people are likely to look at you like that 84-year-old woman in Seattle who refused to sell out to the developers, who then built their shopping mall around her property. But who (after a certain age) doesn’t want to look a little younger?  I could make a fortune in click-bait advertising on the internet if I offered up titles like You Never Have to Look Your Age Again, The Secret of Looking Young Forever, or Why Sag When You Can Soar?  The problem? I wouldn’t know what to write. Maybe I’ll build my readership by announcing: Doctor Discovers Secret to Eternal Life. Truthfully though, I’m not a purist and I’d certainly be happier if I could put back into my cheekbones the flesh that has drifted down to my jowls. Oh, well.


The message in our culture is loud: young=good/old=bad. It sounds like a bad joke until someone at the deli counter doesn’t see you and serves a younger client first (this has happened to friends). Or, you go to a party and you feel like you’re wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. In my IGNITE talk, I treat ageism lightly, but the topic stops being funny (after a certain age) if you’ve been on the job market for months without even receiving a callback. I used to believe that ageism was only real if you allowed it to be real, but after hearing too many stories, I think my concept was a naive fantasy. Ageism is peculiar. Why would you be ageist when you, too, are going to be old someday? Plus, folks past fifty represent a huge market, which is often ignored by marketers–except for sales of those anti-aging products and Depends (diapers, don’t ask). Older adults are rapidly becoming the largest market segment in society and will possess the most purchasing power of any demographic, according to a task force at the International Longevity Center in New York. Mid-life-plus women in the United States have great buying power and drive many buying decisions. Yet I remember my experience, some years ago, when I took my mother shopping at Nordstroms. She was 78, I was 54. As we eyed the skimpy midriff tops and low rider pants, it was as if there was a sign on the door: OLDER NOT WANTED HERE. I found nothing to buy for my mother. Didn’t the retailers understand that Mom’s buying power far exceeded that of the 18-year-old nymphets that were being targeted by marketers?

What We Can Do

I don’t expect to change our culture’s obsession with youth any time soon. What I can do, and recommend to my friends, is to take ground by learning what gets better with age. I’ve studied about the brain, drawing heavily from the work of Dr. Gene Cohen and his book, The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, and I discovered that there are parts of your brain that improve with age, at least for most of us. For example,

  • Your vocabulary keeps increasing, even if you forget the occasional (or in my case, more than occasional) word.
  • Your brain is better able to handle complexity and see the big picture, and
  • Your amygdala, that pesky epicenter of your emotional reactivity, calms down, making you less subject to irrational outbreaks.

 The Biggest Gift

The biggest selling point for getting older, (and the reason we should all be craving more age)  is that we finally get to let go of having to prove we’re somebody so that we can be who we really are.

What bigger gift could there be to your personal and spiritual development?

So why would you ever deny your age?

Hopefully, after people hear my talk–they won’t.

Rebecca Crichton: Creative aging – a fresh perspective

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As we baby boomers move into our 60’s, there’s a big conversation going on about how to age gracefully, creatively, and avoid the stereotypes that come with words like “senior citizen.” Rebecca Crichton is helping shape that conversation in the Puget Sound, Washington area, through the organization she directs, The Northwest Center for Creative Aging (NWCCA).

The NWCCA offers a wealth of educational and experiential offerings to connect people with their essential purpose, enrich the aging process and help adults in the Northwest discover new insights and a renewed sense of community with others.

In this interview, Rebecca talks about what propelled her from her work at Boeing into this second exciting “encore” career. We also talk about the challenge of finding the right words to describe this boldly creative stage of life “mid-life and beyond.” and what she has discovered works to help adults sustain their vitality.

Here’s  the full episode:



Or listen to episode 53  in ITunes (and please leave a rating and review!)

About my guest

Rebecca Crichton began her Encore Career as Executive Director of NWCCA after a year of retirement from her 21-year career at the Boeing Company. At Boeing, she developed and delivered curriculum and presentations about leadership development, and taught and coached managers and executives to be better leaders. She developed more than 50 presentations aimed at increasing multicultural awareness. After retiring, she volunteered with several organizations serving the aging population in Seattle, including Senior Centers, and the newly formed NEST – North East Seattle Together – one of the first Aging in Place Villages in Seattle, and taught at the Lifetime Learning Center, a school with a wide range of classes providing learning to older adults. Since becoming the ED of NWCCA, Crichton has increased visibility of the organization, taught at many venues in Seattle, and continues to expand the ways that NWCCA serves both providers and recipients of learning related to Positive and Creative Aging.


The Show Notes

Find out more about Rebecca and the Northwest Center for Creative Aging at



Embracing what we might not choose

eight colorful birthday candles with flame on blackLife is full of things most of us don’t ask for – like old age, if we are lucky enough to get it, and dying.

They’re both hard to talk about (not your best party openers) so thank goodness that someone as articulate as the late, great neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks, did not shy away from writing about them in two Op-ed pieces for the New York Times.

Dr. Sacks had a great mind. Having lived a life of passionate observation, with an intellect that spanned science, medicine, travel and the humanities, he brought a world of inquiry to life through his writing.

Last February, he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times when he learned he had terminal cancer. Do read it in its entirety – it’s a short, beautiful, unsentimental yet uplifting piece.  He began by acknowledging:

A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out —“

Dr. Sacks died on August 30th, while I was still reading the last chapter of his brilliant memoir, On the Move.

To celebrate his life, I watched the movie Awakenings last weekend (great performances by Robin Williams and Robert de Niro), based on the work he did in the ’60’s with patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica.

Using the drug L-dopa, Sacks was able to bring his almost catatonic patients “back to life” only to watch them slowly slip back into their mostly vacant, unresponsive states as the drug’s effects receded. This outcome, while tragic, still moved the hospital system to see how cast-off shells of patients could house human beings worthy of respect and dignity.

It’s the dignity one feels as he writes about his own views on aging.

In his New York Times Op-ed piece The Joy of Old Age. (No kidding), he wrote:

“Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over.… I was always the youngest boy in my class at high school. I have retained this feeling of being the youngest, even though now I am almost the oldest person I know…

At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive — “I’m glad I’m not dead!” sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect…

I am grateful that I have experienced many things — some wonderful, some horrible — and that I have been able to write a dozen books, to receive innumerable letters from friends, colleagues and readers, and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called ‘an intercourse with the world’…

I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done.

I feel I should be trying to complete my life, whatever “completing a life” means

At 80, the specter of dementia or stroke looms. A third of one’s contemporaries are dead, and many more, with profound mental or physical damage, are trapped in a tragic and minimal existence. At 80 the marks of decay are all too visible.

One’s reactions are a little slower, names more frequently elude one, and one’s energies must be husbanded, but even so, one may often feel full of energy and life and not at all “old.” Perhaps, with luck, I will make it, more or less intact, for another few years and be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life…

At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

I am looking forward to being 80.”

He found the magic of living within a complicated reality.

My husband turns 80 in December. Do I like the sound of that number? Not at all.

Do I hope that we can embrace it with the robust passion Oliver Sacks brought to his life?


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