At the age of 40, I’ve developed a superpower. OK, maybe it’s more like a lesser power – but it’s there all the same.
Just in case you suspect I’m now going to bang on about suddenly feeling comfortable with my body, sadly no. That particular wisdom evades me.
Frankly, looking in the mirror makes me grimace. Sagging boobs and belly, yellowing teeth and the faint creases of crows’ feet around my eyes that will only deepen with time. Then there are the grey hairs cropping up on my head and uncomfortable, unattractive bunions forming on my feet.
Over the past year, these facets of maturing have blanketed me in disappointment. Surely this is the so-called dawn of old age.
Every time my kind and hopeful husband brought up the idea of a party to celebrate, I flattened his suggestions.
“I’m not interested,” I said. (But later changed my mind, and you’ll see why.)
One day the lesser power hit me with force. A senior editor from a major news organisation contacted me and asked me to write and produce a complex online feature for him.
The proposed project would take weeks of investigative work. He offered to pay me less than half the standard union rates for a freelancer.
“It’ll be great exposure,” he told me, “I’m giving you an opportunity.”
He clearly expected me to leap at the chance, as numerous others certainly had before.
“I’m not a rookie journalist,” I shot back, “I don’t need an opportunity from you or exposure for that matter. If you’re not paying me properly, I’m not working for you,” I said, and hung up the phone.
Then I sat in my office chair blinking like a newborn child in the sunlight. After all these years, the corrosive shackles of self-doubt had inexplicably dropped away: I was able to stick up for myself without being afraid.
In that moment, decades of life experience coagulated. I was no longer willing to be trodden on, taken for granted or shortchanged. I knew my worth – as a person and a professional. Even a few short years ago this wasn’t the case. This lesser power – a steady confidence – is the gift of ageing.
In short order, I shocked myself again by publicly calling out publishers who had stolen my work, triggering a viral international conversation about plagiarism in journalism
Even while wondering whether I was burning my own bridges, the ethics of standing up for what I believed was starkly more important.
I felt different. No longer did I need writer Sarah Hagi’s daily mantra to combat imposter syndrome: “God give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude.”
It turns out I’m not alone in gaining courage with age. Student and stay-at-home mum Lucy is blunt but jovial about getting older.
She says: “F— them all! I’m older wiser and don’t care. It took me 44 years to learn this and I help other people do the same. My body may be decaying but my mind is just getting started!”
Rebekah Robertson, 51, is an actor and founder of the support group, Transcend. As she ages, Beck also finds herself full of thunder.
“I stopped being afraid of not getting approval or fitting into a box. I grew bigger in every way possible and took up space.
“It’s been good to stretch right out. I don’t feel invisible yet. I feel like people are seeing me for the first time,” she says.
Perhaps then, flying past your 40th year and into the future is a kind rebirth. Three years ago renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a delightful essay about the joy of old age.
“One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty,” wrote the late Dr Sacks.
“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,” he wrote.
Of course not everyone is so upbeat about ageing. Retired radio producer Erica Mann believes “women over 40 are invisible”.
But to Erica, there is an upside to this invisibility: “You can do anything you want to. Get stroppy. Say rude things. It’s quite freeing, really.”
Retired real estate agent Karen Rush couldn’t agree more.
“Try being 70 years [old]. I am so shocked I am this age. I don’t recognise myself in the mirror. Out and about in town, I am invisible. However, I am in full roar like an old tigress these days,” she says.
Staring out my office window at the greenery and parrots feasting on the front lawn, I’m flooded with gratitude for the unexpected gift of a lesser power. My only question is: Why did it take so darn long to arrive?
Ginger Gorman is an award-winning print and radio journalist, and a 2016 TEDx Canberra speaker. Follow her on Twitter @GingerGorman
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