I’m going to tell you what it feels like to be 70 years old. But first, a quick story.
My brother is a therapist, and he once told me of a client who said to him, “Mr. Bowden. I’m a single mother of two, I’m black, I’m poor, and I’m young. How could you—a white, middle-aged, middle class Jewish man—possibly understand me?”
A reasonable question.
My brother replied: “What you say is true. But even if I were a poor, black, young, single mother of two… I still wouldn’t know what it was like to be you having that experience. So why don’t you share that with me?”
There’s a great lesson there. Circumstances—young, poor, black, privileged, white, rich, blind, short, seventy—don’t determine your experiences of those circumstances. Two kids grow up in the same neighborhood, same brutal poverty, same lousy environment, and one kid becomes a career criminal and the other becomes a judge. Go figure. You can be blind and sell pencils on the corner outside Macy’s, or you can be blind and be Stevie Wonder.
Which brings us to the title of this article, What it feels like to be 70, a bit of a misnomer since I can only tell you what it feels like for me to be 70. With metaphysical certitude, you will have your own unique experience of being 70, which is exactly what I wish for you one day. Some of the things I’ll share with you might be part of your experience as well, many will not be, and you will have plenty of your own that are completely different from mine.
And let it be very clear… I share this with you for one reason only. Because the lessons I continue to learn don’t just make me a better person, they make me a better understander of the human condition. I’m passionate about sharing the lessons I’ve learned—both about nutrition and about life– only because I’ve experienced their effects in my own life.
So here’s what it feels like to be me on my 70th birthday.
You start to get clearer on what matters, and what doesn’t, really.
You realize that some battles are worth fighting and some are not. And you hope for the wisdom to tell them apart.
You finally begin to understand the profound meaning of acceptance, (which feels very different from resignation).
And…you come to accept something that you have been avoiding thinking about, which is this: the majority of your years are behind you.
Now, I realize that could sound pretty depressing. And it could lead you down some slippery slope of self-pity—- “ah, the good old days, it’s all downhill from here…”
Except I don’t look at it that way on my 70th.
Sure, mathematically, if you’re 70 like me, you’re going to remain on this planet many less years than you’ve already been here. So what? The past 70 years had some stunning highs and some awful lows, but I’d hardly think of them collectively as “the good old days” that I wish I could go back to.
Truth be told, my life started getting really awesome for me in my 60’s, which has been my greatest decade (so far), both professionally and personally. I have more passion now than I did 30 years ago. My business went to a new level. I met Michelle. And my tennis game finally improved (except, of course, for my serve. But don’t get me started.)
The fact that most of the years of my life are behind me doesn’t mean that most of my living isn’t ahead of me.
And since we’re on the subject of acceptance… let’s talk about bodies. And aging.
When I was in my 30’s, 40’s and 50’s a big part of how I defined myself—how the world saw me and how I saw myself—was that I was extremely fit and had a really good body. Not bodybuilder good body, or Olympic gymnast good body, but very decent everyday good body. (Think Mick Jagger with definition.) While people my age around me were frequently getting sick, fat, tired, and depressed, I remained lean and mean, defined and committed to my health.
Now, nearly two decades later, I lift weights twice a week. I play hard competitive tennis 12 hours a week. And I take walks. So I think I have the exercise thing covered. And while I don’t always live up to my own standards of eating, for the most part I eat pretty well. And my weight hasn’t fluctuated more than about 5-10 pounds in over 20 years, and anytime it creeps up into the higher range of that 5-10 pounds I know how to bring it back down, and I do.
That said…here’s the truth: my body just doesn’t look the same as it did twenty years ago.
Not even close.
To be honest—this has been a source of shame for me. I almost never take my shirt off, even at the beach. I’m consciously comparing what I look like today with what I looked like then, and I haven’t felt good about it.
So here’s the unvarnished truth about my body.
One, I have a big structural/ muscular imbalance so that my pecs—far from being symmetrical and defined—look very different from one another.
Two, I have a lot of fat around my chest, which may have been less noticeable when I was more muscular than I am today.
Three, despite the fact that I’ve been working out for 31 years, my skin sags. It just doesn’t look like 30-year-old skin, no matter how much collagen I take. (Sure, collagen supplements probably slows the process of skin aging considerably—but they don’t eliminate it. Sylvester Stallone looks amazing and muscular at 70 but you wouldn’t mistake him for the Rocky lll version.)
So today, on my 70th birthday I looked in the mirror, and instead of seeing what I wasn’t (my 30-year-old self) I saw what I was.
And I decided that it was going to be OK.
I’m always going to train, always going to try to get better, to look better, all that good stuff, but the fact is that this is who I am now, and, at least for today, I decided to make that be OK.
And that included accepting some saggy skin, some body fat I’m not fond of having, and the fact that I’m asymmetrical (some might say weirdly shaped) as hell.
And that I’m probably not going to be anyone’s second choice if Ryan Gosling’s not available.
The silver lining in that is that my view of what’s sexy and attractive has grown enormously. If I had but one legacy message to leave, one thing I believe from the bone marrow of my soul, it’s that sexy comes in all sizes and shapes. What makes someone really hot is what goes on between their ears. Size 4 or size 24, doesn’t matter. That’s just details.
As many of you know, I was a fat, overweight, smoking hot mess a mere 35 or so years ago, and didn’t start getting it together—really—till an age probably older than some of you are right now. I did it slowly—with nutrition, with exercise, with workshops and seminars, but nutrition was always the core of my program. That’s why I know that it works and that’s why I’m passionate about it.
One of my favorite writers in the world—Jennifer Weiner—says that as we get older, we all learn that there isn’t a finish line… or maybe there is, but it keeps moving.
At 70, my finish line keeps moving, my acceptance keeps growing and my awe keeps expanding. I wish the same for you. The songwriter Allen Stone has a beautiful lyric that expresses it perfectly:
Keep your dirt on the surface and just love where you’re at.
The best part of learning is just lovin’ where you’re at.
I know how my own investment in self-healing turned out— my life turned around. For me, the process started with what I put into my body, how I treated my body, my relationship with my body, my relationship with other bodies in the universe and ultimately my relationship with the universe itself.
I have no serious regrets (and that includes about two decades as a hard-drug addict and active alcoholic). I’m deeply in love with Michelle and my passion for her has only grown stronger in seven years of being together (and don’t think that doesn’t get top billing in my gratitude list). I truly think I have the greatest circle of friends anyone could possibly, possibly wish for. I love where I live. I love what I do. I live with two dogs I adore, and they apparently feel the same way as demonstrated by aggressive kissing and cuddling.
And I love that beautiful people like you care about what I write and listen to what I say, and that I can make a living with words, teaching the lessons I’ve learned about how to discover—and ultimately accept– self.
Life is good.
Life is not perfect.
But what is perfect is that that’s OK.
Let the games begin.