Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the Southern Regional Conference for Learning in Retirement in Huntsville, Alabama. When I first heard where the conference would be held, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be seeing beyond corn fields and “Roll Tide” bumper stickers. During my short time in Huntsville, I was shown that this town has a whole lot of history and is a force to be reckoned with. The conference was a great learning opportunity; one topic presented that stood out as a force of its own was the national movement to disrupt aging.

Disrupting Aging

Candi C. Williams, the State Director of AARP Alabama, presented on the concept of what it means to disrupt aging. At AARP, she and others are questioning the way people perceive aging in our culture and shattering the myths and stereotypes around aging. Williams made it clear that nearly all of us are guilty of being ageists, even to ourselves. We look in the mirror daily and say to ourselves “I’m too old for this,” “I missed my chance,” or even “someone my age shouldn’t dress this way.” These ideas begin from early on. For instance, if you think back to earlier birthdays, try to remember how excited you were to turn one year older—the giddiness of another year gone by and thoughts of getting closer to actually growing up clouding your mind. As years continue to move forward through your teens and twenties, milestones of being able to drive a car, register to vote, and legally drink alcohol all come and go. Somehow, the years keep whizzing by and we begin to start “pushing” 40, go “over-the-hill” to 50, and “reach” 60. How many of you have ever quoted the phrase, “don’t trust anyone over 30”? It’s probably not something you would say so much anymore.

During her presentation, Williams showed a video created by AARP that features millennials and their current ideas of what “old” looks like. After explaining that they thought being in your 40s and 50s made you qualify as “old,” they were introduced to a few older adults. The millennials were pleasantly surprised to see how active and fit these individuals were. The millennials were dumbfounded to find that the older people were not what they had previously identified as “old.” Two minutes with these older individuals was all it took to change the millennials’ perception and teach them how to “disrupt aging”.

Society has created negative connotations of what it means to age and get older.  It is so easy to play into society’s role for us, and not the one we create for ourselves. This presentation showed that it is up to us to embrace the change and challenge our perception of aging. AARP’s website said it best, “aging is not about decline, it’s about growth.” Instead of questioning your abilities or leaving yourself wondering if you’ve missed your chance—take the leap, embrace the next step, and know that you are truly never too old, young, or in-between to set your sights on life’s next adventure. By participating in classes and activities at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University, you are already on your way!