June 6, 2022

A version of this essay first appeared in Midlife Cues, a weekly newsletter about intentional living in our middle years. Get it in your inbox; you're going to love it.

If you tend to be a goal-oriented person, as I am, popular phrases such as successful aging, graceful aging, and positive aging will likely sound appealing.

You’ll gravitate toward these phrases and will want to achieve whatever is their implied carrot.

They sound good, don’t they?

I learned about these catchy phrases when I started digging into what ‘living my best in midlife’ means for me. I used them myself. “Yes,” I said, “more power to all midlifers.”

But then, as I tried to figure out what exactly I needed to do to be successfully — or gracefully or positively — aging, I began to feel uneasy.

On the surface, all these phrases are good and intended to be motivational. But they carry a subtle and underlying set of standards that we are encouraged to attain.

Think about it. What would make midlife and the aging process successful? Or graceful? Or positive? What image came to your mind?

As soon as we try to define those terms, we cannot avoid setting parameters and standards of beauty, success, health, wealth, grace, and positivity.

Why use words that are limiting and exclusionary?

The thing is, we arrive at this stage in our life from different entry points.

Some of us get here reasonably healthy and strong, while some are challenged with a variety of health issues. Some, due to great genes, get to midlife with hardly any wrinkles to boast of while others’ faces are deeply lined with life’s experiences.

Some have amassed great wealth and can simply retire and focus on their golf game. Others have to continue to work. Some are divorced, while others are looking forward to celebrating silver and golden anniversaries.

Bottom Line

My point? Using phrases that subconsciously communicate a set of standards is discouraging and limiting for many people — no matter the original motivational intent of these phrases.

Haven’t we already lived a lifetime of striving to meet standards of beauty, success, and wealth?

It’s about time we give ourselves a break in the second half of our lives and live according to our set of values and priorities.

What makes you happy? What feels good and easeful?

What creates a sense of pride? What makes your heart swell with joy?

What makes for a good night’s sleep in your world?

Additional Suggested Reading

  • One life lesson I’ve learned (though it took me a while!) is that the more I fight what ‘is’, the harder it is for me, and the more difficult my experience becomes. I used to think I had to always be fighting — and fighting hard — because I didn’t want to be complacent or simply take whatever life gave. But I’ve since been learning about a kinder approach and self-compassion, and this article from the School of Life about a more self-accepting life hits the right spots.
  • One of the current leading voices around fighting ageism is Ashton Applewhite, and she suggests that rather than identifying as young, or old, or middle-aged, we refer to ourselves as an old person in training. Applewhite says that identifying as an old person in training “opts for purpose and intent over dread and denial. It connects us empathically with our future selves.”

Mull It Over

“Life is like that. We can look at it one way and be scared, or angry, or worried. Or we can look at it another way and see an exciting challenge. We can choose to look at something as an obstacle or an opportunity. We can see chaos if we look closely, we can see order if we look from afar.” — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is The Way

Book Notes

This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
by Ashton Applewhite

In our youth-obsessed culture, we’re bombarded by media images and messages about the despairs and declines of our later years. Wrinkles are embarrassing. Gray hair should be colored, and bald heads covered with implants. Older minds and bodies are too frail to keep up with the pace of the modern working world. Older people should just step aside for the new generation.

Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks examines how ageist stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, looks at ageism in the workplace and the bedroom, and exposes the cost of the all-American myth of independence, critiques the portrayal of elders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and offers a rousing call to action.


A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Midlife Cues and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on exploring how to navigate, thrive, and turn midlife into the best phase in our life.