It is one of the milestones for any woman: turning 50 with all that it means and represents. But the fabulous news is that 50 is not what it used to be. Women are realising more and more that, rather than it being the end of all good things, 50 can be the beginning of so much more. Health, finances, relationships, work and interests: manage these well and you are set for a couple more decades of vital living. This article debunks some of the myths of “The Fifties” and provides some useful lessons.
Women who have hit the 50-mark often find themselves at a crossroads. They may be up for the new challenges, but they are often unenthusiastic about the label.
There is no denying that it is an exciting time. Many women have by now completed the parenting years; some have started fresh careers; others may find themselves suddenly single, having to discard the old dreams and focus on a whole new future. Some conform to the stereotype: lonely and purposeless; others stride out with newfound independence with a recharged love for life.
MYTH # 1: Single women are desperate to find a partner…
As much as many of us would like to have a special man in our life, it is not as high on our agenda as the media and dating sites would like us to believe. Many of us love the fact we can make our own decisions and, yes, we do enjoy our independence. Happily, the world is much kinder today to single people than it was in our parents’ time.
MYTH # 2: This is a lonely time of life
Living alone can be lonely. But not as lonely as a non-communicative, empty marriage. Many people actively enjoy a certain degree of solitude and are comfortable with who they are. If not, what better time to learn to like yourself! Friends form vital networks, and there are loads of opportunities to connect and form new relationships. Step out of your sheepskin slippers and your comfort zone and try something new. There are loads of cultural and sports clubs or organisations that can be joined on a formal or casual basis. It’s important to not only learn to love who you are, but to also learn to know who you are. Spend quality time reflecting on who you are and where you are going.
MYTH # 3: Finances flummox the 50+ woman
Women, more than men, are more likely to seek advice about money issues. And women who are divorced have the challenge of starting over, planning for a different kind of future. All women should take charge of their financial situation, understand what money attitudes are holding them back and start to build a personal nest egg for the future. Build a trusted relationship with a financial adviser who can guide you on this vital journey.
This is the time of life when we should be able to reap some financial rewards. One way to do that is to know how to manage money and not spend it just because we feel we deserve a dose of retail therapy. We need to minimise short-term debt so that we can enjoy the fruits of this season.
We all think “it will never happen to me”. But sometimes it does and one way to deal with it is to make like a good Girl Guide and Be Prepared. Minimise the worry in your life and consider insuring your risks to ensure you sleep easier at night. You could decide to combine your most critical risks like dread disease, disability and life cover under one integrated plan. This planning will ensure that, no matter what, you will at least have peace of mind.
MYTH # 4: Retirement is for slowing down
Now why should that be? This is the time to kick-start a whole new you! Women of 50+ in the 21st century have a good 20-25 years ahead of healthy living and there is no reason not to start a second career, travel or reinvent yourself. Find out what you enjoy, design a “portfolio life” – this is one of the most exciting aspects of your so-called “retirement” years. Take a fresh look at what work really means in your life and find a balance in all that you do.
MYTH # 5: We no longer care about our appearance.
Say what?! Truth is we feel and look so much younger than previous generations reaching this age. This is the information age and there is no excuse for not finding out just what you need to keep yourself youthful and healthy, in a physical and mental sense. Adopt the motto: “Eat less and move more.” The more you move and keep active and agile now, the more you will enjoy day-to-day living.
MYTH # 6: We become redundant to families
Long gone is the close-knit family unit where we all lived in walking or driving distance of each other. Families are spread all over the world. But out of sight does not mean out of mind: it’s just that the village has gone global. We can stay in contact at the touch of a button, which is why it is important to know how to use technology to keep up with those vital connections.
But this is also the time to forge strong networks of family and friends who live close by. Often it is friends that become the closest “family”, as children and siblings move away. Nurture these relationships – if you are there for them they will be there for you.
You may need it: empty nest syndrome is very real, and a child’s departure can give rise to a host of emotions. Parenting is an important season of life, and the transition can be painful. Understand, though, that it is a transition; it is not an end. Use this new – though maybe unwelcome – freedom to discover who you are, what skills and gifts you have and how to make a difference in the lives of others. Time and energy can be poured into learning a new skill, studying, volunteering… There are many opportunities to add value to the social fabric of life in South Africa. Education, health and environmental challenges abound everywhere. Find your area of passion and offer your help.
The business environment also teaches us many skills that we can impart to others through mentoring.
MYTH # 7: We pass over the baton
Many in this age group are caught between i) children staying home longer and ii) parents living longer. These two scenarios can change your journey significantly. Ensure that necessary conversations and boundaries are put in place where possible to ensure quality of life for your next phase of life. We need to love and support our children as they navigate their own path, but often we take on too much of their responsibility. Try and help your parents find the right long-term care solution for their latter years. The longer it takes to make these decisions, the tougher it becomes for all as many resist change late in life, making it very difficult for their children.
But whether you’re kicking your kids out or wishing they’d come home, mourning your parents or longing for some space from them, some things remain central: to celebrate who you are; to make friends; to find your way to make a difference; to manage your finances and your risks; and to set some boundaries. In other words, live life. There are many fine years ahead.