It is the best of times. It could have been among the worst of times. One way or another, it is a landmark that’s been looming large for years. By the time you read this, unbelievably, I will be 50 years-old. Welcome to the better half of my life.
Me? 50? I can’t be. Fifty is men with white or no hair and pot bellies; who wear slippers and stay in at night with the crossword or Top Gear, before going to bed in their pyjamas after News At Ten.
Fifty is women who cut their hair short and stop wearing heels, because “it’s time to”. Those who fill in puzzle books and watch Last Tango In Halifax and Bake Off, book luxury cruises and read 50 Shades of Grey in secret, when they’re not Facebook-ing photos of their children baking cakes from Bake Off.
My 50 is manifestly not my parents’ 50. However, theirs’ wasn’t that dissimilar to their parents’ – both generations were brought up in thrift, with wartime values.
My Ma’s 50 was a litany of tiredness. Out went that last physical experimentation, her 80s’ perm, and in came that short hair, sensible shoes, ironing in front of Coronation Street, endless cooking, cleaning, worrying about money and sheer absolute bloody exhaustion.
I recall my 50-something Italian uncles (sadly, the English side were all dead by 60) in London, Lazio and Boston, living the stereotype in ice cream, stonemasonry or tailoring. They shared those traits: exhaustion, worrying about money, and a longing to retire for a more gentle life.
I have that privilege already. I was planning to argue that we are younger at heart, fitter physically and – arguably – mentally, more adventurous, curious, spendthrift and – maybe – selfish than previous 50s.
It was a preamble to claiming I never want to retire. Not only because I won’t ever be able to afford to, but because I will always relish the stimulation, camaraderie and shared purpose of work. But then, I haven’t done a full-time manual job since being a student waiter. I already have that gentler life: schmoozing, sitting, typing.
There is an irrefutable truth about becoming 50: I’m on the home straight; entering my second act. It may be long. I know I have greater life expectancy than my ancestors, and am considerably healthier too (touch heart).
The outmoded notion of mid-life crisis was surely based on the notion that we would live “three score year and ten”, whereas today, one in three babies can expect to live to 100. It was also a reflection of clearly defined notions of masculinity. No surprise then that being much closer to “the end” married to waning physical powers equalled fear; sometimes the need to seek affirmation with a younger woman.
Today’s 50+ heroes are the Brownlee brothers, Sir Bradley Wiggins. Britain is plagued by MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra). Whatever we look like, those not obese are unarguably fitter than before – even if we have to accept the harsh truth that we will never play for England. Forget Wiggo, look at Brad, Clooney, Elle, Yasmin…
Today, 50 is not a crisis, but a time to “reboot” Two overwhelming desires hold me in a pincer movement: the first is to declutter my life; throw out the “stuff”, the detritus that we accumulate.
That can include empty-nest downsizing – even relationships. I’ve much less time for those who don’t enhance my life; so little patience with time wasters; the “mood hoovers”, the “drains”. I don’t want to “wear my trousers rolled” nor measure out my life in black-tie dinners. I want to be with those that I love and who love me: “radiators”.
I particularly crave “quality” time with my daughters. Therein lies true joy and reward. What’s more, I have come to understood as the girls grow, that it’s not just a glib greetings card line: “if you love someone, set them free. If they love you, they will come back to you”.
The other inclination is to take my head out of the sand: I really must sort out my finances. Where are my paltry pensions? My will? Is Ma’s future care provided for? Can I see my children through higher education? What the hell is a SIPP? Power of attorney? Bring it on.
A third desire is to experience the new. What will I learn? Where shall I go? I don’t mean little things like a guitar or Macchu Picchu, but I’ve put my career and reputation on the line, having given up my job to be an internet entrepreneur.
Being editor of High50.com, a brand that’s all about the power of 50+, you might expect me to say this, but I can only do so; could only have made that leap, by meaning every word. No more bullshit.
So, 50 is no big deal? Nonsense. Of course it’s a landmark moment. My future life depends on coping with the emotions it brings; embracing them, and forging ahead secure in the knowledge that to be 50 today is actually thrilling, inspiring; in short, a privilege.
Stefano Hatfield is editor-in-chief of High50.comReuse content