Pace yourself – if you want to live a long life
It seems to me that most of us are hoping to run a marathon, but we set our pace as if we were doing a sprint.
We all want to live for long. But to be honest, the idea of my own personal longevity has always been kind of abstract to me. I find it hard to imagine myself as older. How will I look like? How will it feel like? What is older anyway? When will I be old? In an attempt to make my future self a bit more relatable, I googled “how long will I live” and ended up on a site where I had to fill in details on my health, lifestyle, height and weight. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I can expect to see my 97-year-old birthday! Holy moly – that means I have 46 years left of my life!! I then realised the site I had landed on was offering financial advice on retirement, so I figured the algorithm that calculated my age was probably a bit biased on the positive side :-) Anyway, knowing that I might live well into my 90s, puts things in perspective for my current life. I mean, with that many years left, I guess I don´t have to run quite as fast. Maybe I could rest and enjoy life a little more now? It will probably even improve my chances of making it that far.
Last week I listened to a podcast by the founder of Next-UP, Victoria Tomlinson, who interviewed Avivah Wittenberg Cox  (I can really recommend the podcast – or anything else you can find from these ladies). In the podcast, Wittenberg Cox mentioned that when she does presentations about longevity, people are relieved, when they realise, they don´t have to get all their ambitions and dreams fulfilled by the time the hit 50. She suggests we look at life in four quarters, adding a 3rd quarter at age 50-74 as an entirely new phase of mature, active adulthood. In our younger adult life (quarter 2), we often need to divide our time between work, family, children and ageing parents, whereas in our 3rd quarter we are a bit more settled, and more free to focus on what we find interesting. We might also have a bit more financial leeway, which allows us to explore and invest in our interests. When I heard this, I noticed my own relief – and then I noticed the surprise of my own relief. Of course, I know that I am not yet at the peak of worklife – far from it. But I think that despite having written a book about the positive sides of longevity, deep inside of me, I was assuming that most of our achievements must happen when we are younger. I don´t really know where that idea came from. It just shows how deeply rooted old stereotypes of ageing is within us all.
However, I think there is more to it than a stereotypical narrative of ageing. It also comes down to our cultural obsession with striving and achieving. In the world we live in today it is not enough to just be a person living a life that we enjoy, doing a job to earn a living and being present for the people we love and our community. We want our names to be remembered. We want to be special. We also want our children to perform well and we raise them to be high achievers. Our aim is well-intended, but sometimes we forget to tell them that love is unconditional; that it is possible to be loved and to live a good life without being a high-achieving celebrity before 50 (or after). This pressure we put on ourselves and our children comes at a price; in order to prove ourselves, we need to sprint. Because the competition from all the other achievers is fierce!
So, here is the paradox; we want to live for longer than our grandparents, but we are living our lives as if they were shorter. It seems to me that most of us are planning to run a marathon, but we set our pace as if we were doing a sprint.
It seems to me that most of us are planning to run a marathon, but we set our pace as if we were doing a sprint.
I am not saying we should not aspire and work for our dreams, but a healthy life requires balance between working and resting. If I want to make it to 97, I better pace myself for it.