By the time women reach their fifties, they've seen a lot of life. Many say it's the best time of their lives, filled with inner peace and contentment. For some, it's a jarring realization that their past is longer than their future. This leads them to think differently about the time they have left and what they want to do with it.
In If No One's Looking, Do We Have to Try as Hard?, author Mary Hemlepp provides a snapshot of how some women over fifty think, what they look forward to, what advice they'd give to younger women, and how happy they are at this stage of life. It also includes life stories of women who've blazed trails, overcome adversity, and raised the bar. She explores issues relating to female health and fitness, relationships, finance, work life, and well-being.
Based on interviews and informal discussions with hundreds of women, If No One's Looking, Do We Have to Try as Hard? communicates that getting older doesn't have to slow women down. Women over fifty are vibrant, busy women who enjoy life to the fullest.
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If No One's Looking, Do We Have to Try as Hard?And other ponderings of women over fifty
By Mary Hemlepp
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Mary Hemlepp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHappy Days
At what age are we happiest? Some women say their fifties are or were the happiest time in their lives. There's a peace within and renewed focus on priorities. It's possible this happens because about this time in life, children leave the nest and women have more time for themselves. Many also say by this stage of their lives they care less about what others think of them, and they are more content overall.
In my online survey, 41 percent said they are very happy, and 54 percent said they are mostly happy. Only 4 percent said they are unhappy or not very happy. Given the number of ads for antidepressants and all the turmoil surrounding menopause, this surprised me. Could all these women be on medication? How else can we explain all this happiness? Aren't older women supposed to be unhappy because they're losing their youthful glow and have become empty nesters? This is apparently not true for all women over fifty.
As it turns out, researchers have been asking people over fifty about their happiness for years and found that older people really are happier than younger folks. Gallup did a survey of more than 340,000 Americans in 2008 that showed at around age fifty, people start to worry less and their stress levels become lower. So could this finding make us more eager to grow older? I doubt it. But it is a huge contrast to what we see in the media, which focuses on youth and beauty. Turns out, it's very stressful being young, beautiful, and married while trying to raise 2.5 children.
In 2005, Pew Research Center also measured happiness and found that only one-third of Americans said they were very happy. Like the Gallup survey, this one showed that older people were happier than younger ones. The Pew survey suggested that happiness levels are tied to life events and personality characteristics such as optimism and high self-esteem. This is interesting because many women I know or have talked to as part of this research have family issues such as drugs, divorce, illness, and financial problems. Some talked about low self- esteem and low self-confidence issues they've dealt with throughout their lives. Yet, most of those who responded to the survey said they were happy. Maybe it's because they also said they were realistic or optimistic. More than half said they were realistic. They acknowledged that sometimes things happen and said they dealt with them and moved on. Some 46 percent of survey participants said they were optimists.
Here's more optimism. Even though all of the research participants were over age fifty, nearly half said they felt the best was yet to come in their lives. About 35 percent said they felt like they were treading water trying to decide what to do with the next chapter in their lives. This seems like an optimistic attitude as well. It indicates this group feels it has more to do but hasn't yet decided what that is. When people realize most of their years are behind them, they sometimes feel a sense of urgency to do something new or different with the time they have left. After age fifty is the time of life when many women can devote more hours to volunteering or getting involved in projects they've put off. For some, it's a time to try something they've thought about for years.
Only 18 percent said they'd reached the high point of their lives and were on the downside. It's easy to see where this attitude comes from. Some women's lives have been focused on child rearing, and when the kids leave the nest, it's a letdown for some moms. Most of us want to feel needed, so when kids move out, a big part of our sense of being needed leaves with them. This causes the sadness and loss that some people feel. Women are more susceptible to it, but men are not immune.
Maybe these moms should cheer up. Over the last several years, a new phenomenon has developed. Many kids come home after college and live with their parents until well into their thirties. These so called boomerang kids want the limited responsibility of childhood and the privileges of adulthood, according to Psychology Today.com. Is this really what we want for our kids? Don't we want them to leave the nest and start feathering one of their own? Young adults need to learn to be independent and self-sufficient. What if you got run over by a bus tomorrow? Wouldn't you want your children to know how to live on their own without you? For some moms, it seems the need to be needed outweighs what's really best for their children. It may not seem like it, but Junior can learn to balance his checkbook or his online account without you.
A few more thoughts about happiness and growing older: in interviews and informal discussions with women over fifty, I learned that many of them felt pressured to reinvent themselves or to do more with their lives. Pop culture and media push these ideas. It's not enough that a woman had a satisfying career and wants to enjoy her retirement by gardening, spending time with grandchildren, or traveling with friends. A constant barrage of magazine articles and talk show guests extol the virtues of starting a business, returning to school, or making some other type of big change later in life. That's all fine if you really want to do that, but we need to understand that not everyone wants to start over. It makes me wonder if as a society, we somehow missed the point of women's liberation. Wasn't the whole idea that women could do or be whatever they wanted, including a stay-at-home mom or grandma?
Case in point: my friend Tina was downsized in her early fifties from a company she'd worked for her entire career. Although she missed not going to work every morning and seeing her co-workers, the biggest challenge she had was trying to get past the feeling that she needed to be doing something more. She said this was reinforced in the media to the point her self-esteem began to suffer. She spent the next couple of years looking for the next stage in her life. She tried part-time jobs in fields outside her comfort zone. She read self-help books. She went to therapy. After more than two years, she started to become at peace with herself and realized she didn't have to be anything other than what she wanted to be. Even though she says she's come to terms with her age and her life, some days I'm not so sure.
Another friend who left her job at a younger age by choice had similar feelings. Jan worked for a high-profile politician. In her late forties she remarried and left her job so she could spend more time with her grandchildren. As many of us do at this age, she decided it was time to join a gym. The membership application asked for the name of her employer. No longer having a job, she wrote N/A in the blank. Talk about packing a wallop.
"I'm so much more than N/A," she said.
Another example of the stress caused by expectations we put on ourselves comes from my friend Charlotte. At fifty-four, she said she's the happiest she's ever been, but it hasn't been easy for her to get there. Her big obstacle was not early retirement. It was her perception that her career had not progressed to where she wanted it to be by age fifty.
"I think I would have thrived following a traditional retirement in which I could have actually received a pension and benefits for many years of education and hard work; I would have felt validated and fulfilled," she said.
Instead, at fifty, Charlotte became painfully aware that her dream career was not going to be realized. Not until then did Charlotte realize that her success as a woman and human being did not depend on others' opinions of her and career rewards. Though jobless, she was fortunate to have a working husband to provide for her so that she could start the mental healing process for herself while taking care of the physical and emotional needs of her ailing mother and best friend.
"Being unsuccessful in the business world was actually a gift," Charlotte said. "If I had not lost the many tenured professorship opportunities that I worked so hard for and truly felt I deserved, I would have lost something far more precious: the opportunity to attend to the needs of my mother."
After her mother passed on, Charlotte began seeing a counselor to help her deal with this new loss and to guide her on a path toward self-awareness. Though the healing and growth have been slow, Charlotte feels that she's finally learning that she doesn't need career success or even the approval of others for validation.
She began focusing on reinventing herself by rediscovering the things that once were important to her before she embarked on a career. For example, Charlotte wrote and published a children's book. It was a project that had been on the back burner during all of those years of working toward career success. Publishing it also allowed her to fulfill a promise to her mother.
"This is not some beautiful end to the story," she said. "Life is tough and unfair. I have my ups and downs. I still struggle with self-esteem issues and depression. But I have learned that we can't resign ourselves to failure when life doesn't deal us a fair hand. I have to pull myself up every day to keep from drowning in the mire. I can't say that I'm soaring with the eagles, but I do think I can finally say, after fifty years, that I'm learning to sprout my wings."
In talking to women about their happiness and attitude toward life, it's easy to see that many suffered from a lack of self-confidence when they were young. But as they've grown older, for many their self-confidence has improved and they are more comfortable with themselves. Many more are trying to be. The big question is: What does it take to make us happy and comfortable with ourselves?
In researching this topic of self-confidence in women over fifty I read numerous conflicting articles. Some said women over fifty are more self- confident than younger women whereas other publications said women near retirement age lose confidence. I ran across information that helped clarify some of the discrepancies. For example, self-esteem and self- confidence are not the same thing. Someone may be confident enough to go on stage and do stand-up comedy, but offstage she may believe she is not worthy of success. Self-esteem is about the respect and regard we have for ourselves, and it seems women in general sometimes don't like themselves very much. We don't feel worthy of love, success, or happiness. We feel we could and should be better moms, wives, co-workers, and friends. We see small failures as indictments of our entire being. Just because the flambé flopped doesn't mean we've failed as humans, but we women sometimes take these little blips as total failure.
So, maybe it's about the pursuit of perfection, which no one will ever reach. And yet, we try. We spend thousands trying to look a certain way. We feel we need to drive the right car or live in the right neighborhood. Our kids need to go to the best schools. Do you see a pattern here? Why do we have this need to project a certain image about ourselves? We are projecting perfection while inside we still feel inadequate. Are we really just trying to keep up with the Joneses to make ourselves feel better? Why is it so important what others think about us? Shouldn't we be more focused on trying to like ourselves?
We aren't necessarily born with self-confidence, but it is something we can learn. I'm not very good at trying to fool myself or rationalize a reaction to a situation, so a lot of the techniques I see that are supposed to improve self-esteem and confidence don't work for me. I do believe in trying to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Negativism is an easy trap to fall into, especially if those around us are negative. I'm not suggesting we all become like Pollyanna, but we can be happier if we start looking for the good in our lives, being more aware of the positives, and spending more time with upbeat people.
I believe that each of us is in charge of her own happiness. No one else can make us happy over the long term. We must like ourselves and focus on peace and contentment. So many people think material things will make them happy. Fill in the blank here: If only I had _______, I could be happy. Really? Think about it again. Why is that so important to you? Why would it make you happier? Would that happiness last hours, days, or a lifetime? Although money can make life easier, and we all feel better knowing we can pay our bills on time, having more money to buy more stuff doesn't seem to be the answer. Researchers from several universities have found that experiences make us happier than things do. That's probably because we share experiences with others, which gives us good memories.
Being happy and content with life is a goal. No one is happy all the time, but if we realize what it is within us that produces happiness, contentment, and peace of mind, then we can strive to achieve that each day. The first step is to realize that we have to take each day as it comes versus thinking our happiness as a whole is wrapped up in what happens today.
Chapter TwoAging beauty queens, sex symbols, and the rest of us
For some women, being overachievers in the classroom or the office has boosted their self-confidence. Others have sought fulfillment through the successes of their children or their husbands' careers. And some have relied on their looks. But as we all learn at some point in our lives, there's always someone smarter, wealthier, or prettier. This is a harder lesson for some than for others.
By the time we reach our fifties, the happiness and self-confidence of some women are affected by health issues or the realization that we no longer look twenty-five. This is especially difficult for those we see suffering from "aging beauty queen syndrome." Although not a real disease, this syndrome affects a lot of women. You know who they are. They were the popular girls in high school and college. The ones all the girls wanted to be friends with and all the boys wanted to date. And, oh yeah, they looked terrific in anything, especially jeans and swimsuits. For many, those days are long past, and for the most part, the former hotties look a lot like the rest of us now —a little heavier, a little wrinkled, and a little gray (underneath our fabulous hair color). But some can't give it up. They tend to dress too provocatively. Their hair is a little too big, too blonde, or too dark. Instead of believing less is more, they use more makeup in hope of camouflaging their wrinkles. You've seen this. The makeup settles in the wrinkles and makes them look even worse. So much for aging gracefully. Some baby boomers are fighting it tooth and nail, while others are enjoying the freedom that comes with age.
What about Hollywood's sex symbols? How do they handle getting older? Women like Jacqueline Bissett, Cher, Bo Derek, and Raquel Welch? Who could forget Raquel Welch in the animal skin bikini? Every teenage boy of that era probably had the poster, and every teenage girl and her mother wanted to look like Raquel.
So, how do these and other former sex symbols handle aging? Mostly with surgery, I'd guess from what I see on TV. Some are very open about the procedures they've had, and others want us to pretend not to notice. Some, however, seem to have accepted aging as part of life. Some admit to their surgical procedures at an earlier stage of life and now say they regret having had them. Others talk about how fans are somehow let down to see their sex symbols as older women. Several have on gone on TV recently with no makeup so the rest of us won't feel so bad. In an appearance on a daytime talk show, a former sex symbol who was sixty-nine at the time, said of getting older, "It's a bitch." Ain't that the truth?
As difficult as aging is for the beauty queens and sex symbols of the world, it's no easier for the rest of us. Ads for diet products, wrinkle creams, and goofy exercise gadgets fill the airwaves and pages of magazines. Here we are, over fifty and trying to recapture our youth from a jar, or in most cases, many jars, tubes, and bottles. Did you know there's actually a product called "Hope in a Jar"?
Excerpted from If No One's Looking, Do We Have to Try as Hard? by Mary Hemlepp Copyright © 2012 by Mary Hemlepp. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Happy Days....................3
Chapter 2. Aging beauty queens, sex symbols, and the rest of us....................11
Chapter 3. Healthy, wealthy, and wise....................19
Chapter 4. What? Me worry?....................27
Chapter 5. I am woman Hear me roar....................33
About the Author....................101
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Stephanie Dagg for Readers Favorite "If No One’s Looking, Do We Have to Try as Hard" by Mary Hemlepp is a look at women’s lives once they reach fifty. It is compulsive reading, and should probably also be compulsory reading for everyone since it gives such insights into the more mature female mindset. This is achieved with humor and a direct approach. The author starts by dismissing those prissy platitudes that are dished out so often and gets down to business at once. Yes, we are in our fifties or beyond. Yes, most of our lives are behind us now. Yes, we can still make changes and be happy, possibly happier than we have ever been. There are chapters on happiness, beauty and sex appeal, health, wealth and wisdom, and worrying. Finally we have fifteen case studies that look very briefly at the lives of very different women. Hemlepp gives us plenty of facts and figures to back up what she is talking about in this book as well as the views of her contemporaries. This is a very slick and polished book. Though at times a few of the claims may not fit the reader’s profile (for example, the author talks about how we all spend “thousands of dollars” on our appearance) generally the book is aimed well at its audience. The case studies are fascinating and some of them quite shocking, particularly that of an African-American woman who has struggled against society’s racist attitudes for most of her life. That puts things into perspective for the vast majority of us who might be feeling bad about what minor things getting older has thrown at us. So in summary, this is a very positive, inspiring and interesting book. You will come away from it resolute about not “giving in to gray” but making the best of being an older person.