At some point several years ago, I started to feel shame about my age for the first time. This was around the time I was turning 40, and it was a seminal year for me: I left a leadership position and career in the non profit world to take a stab at making art for a living. But while others were praising me for making a later-in-life career change into uncharted territory, I was secretly ashamed that I was just beginning at 40. Compared to most people launching their illustration careers, I was old. My insecurity had little to do with my physical appearance. I wanted to be 25 simply so I would fit more easily into the world I was joining.
Admittedly, it’s weird to think about having shame about aging. We have no control over aging, and it happens to everyone, every second of the day. Everyone who is now 25 will eventually be 40, and everyone who is 40 will eventually be 55. As we exist, we age. And we can’t always predict what twists and turns our lives will take. I happened to figure out pretty late in life that I liked to make art and that I was good at it. How could this make me feel ashamed? (Society? Our obsession with youth? Probably, but that’s another blog post). In some ways I had more internalized shame about my age during this period of time than I’d ever had about my sexual orientation.
In the end, I mastered turning 40 quite well. Eventually I conquered my shame about being the oldest person in the cohort of illustrators whom I considered my peers. I realized over time that all of the life experience I’d had gave me some advantages that I wouldn’t have had at 25. And no one seemed to care that I was older. I fit in just fine. I made friends. I got ample work. In the end, it didn’t matter.
Somewhere in there I also determined that I would embrace aging. I would talk freely about my age, and I’d wear it as a badge of honor. I wouldn’t stop dying my hair weird colors or mixing stripes in my outfits. I’d look to Advanced Style for inspiration, just as I looked at The Sartorialist. I’d celebrate the changes in my body instead of trying to fix them. I’d get more manicures. I’d wear weirder and weirder glasses. I’d continue to be myself, but with even more flair.
Today I turn 45. And this is going to be a good year. I’m getting married (for the first time) to someone I’m crazy about. I am moving from my small apartment to a house in a few weeks (more on that later). I am working on four books that I’m really excited about. I’m going to Paris this summer. I am embarking on my sixth year of being gainfully self employed as an artist. I am happier than I have ever been.
Let’s do this, forty-five.