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Windfalls and ageing

Most of what we lose when we age are the windfalls of life. Knowing that can change how we think about ageing.

I was traveling with a friend for my birthday, and we talked a lot about ageing. She is super beautiful, and her experience of that has shaped her life in lots of ways that are changing as we get older.

One thing that became clear for me in our conversations: we often experience losing the windfalls of life differently than things we’ve worked for. Windfalls being things like being born with a face that much of society has very positive reactions to. Or inheriting enough money that working is optional. Basically anything that you didn't have to earn that makes it possible for your life to be easier or more pleasurable.

Of course it's possible to have negative thoughts and feelings about those kinds of things too and not see them as windfalls. But if you do see them as beneficial, they are basically positive features of your life that you got through no effort but still get to enjoy.

In contrast to windfalls, though, what we work for changes us no matter what we end up with at the end. When you grow yourself in order to meet a goal, you have the growth no matter what happens to the goal. It's not a windfall, so it can't be removed by anything outside of you. The work you put in is yours to be proud of, no matter what. For example, my friend has accomplished and endured things in her life that shaped her into one of my very favorite people.

This is a powerful way to think about ageing for me because as women we have been trained to focus on the loss of whatever windfalls of youth and attractiveness we have or had. And most of those disappear as we age in ways that are out of our control. We get wrinkles. Slowing metabolism leading to weight gain. Grey hair. Etc. Most physical things about which society has offered us some positive feedback (as well as constantly telling us that we need to improve anyway, of course) disappear. Women are rarely encouraged to focus on what we gain and keep as we age: all the wisdom and self-ownership that we have grown ourselves, over the years, by trying and failing and getting up and going forward and refusing to accept perfectionist bullshit that tells us we can never love ourselves as we are.

Of course I don’t have to think negative things about changes in my body, but I can can also recognize that, unlike windfalls like youth or health, the goals I have worked toward over the years have created changes in me as a person that are mine, period. The external stuff can be changed by the sheer passage of time, but the ways I've changed myself belong to me to be proud of forever.

The word “windfall” comes from apples or other fruit that would fall off the tree just from the wind and not have to be picked. So I guess what I'm talking about is the difference between those apples and the ones that you climb the tree to get. Both can be delicious, but encountering windfalls is outside your control. Sometimes they seem extra magical and meant-to-be for that every reason. Like they’ve chosen you, rather than vice versa.

But to get the others, you did have to choose, and that’s powerful in another way. You’ve climbed the tree, and you can see way further whether there are any apples up there or not. You will always have the know-how of what it takes to climb so far, and you can always be proud of everything it took to get yourself there.

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