As of late, I’ve had quite a few interesting conversations with a few people – all of whom were at different ages – about the concept of age itself. As a native of North America, I had never before thought much about the desire to be eternally young. However, during my time in Spain, I began to understand how different societies may envision different numerical ages as the most desirable.
Any Canadian or American will know that our pop culture constantly bombards us with the idea that being young is attractive. We are told that being past a certain age means that you are “past your prime”. This specific age varies depending on which city or region you’re from, but generally speaking, that number is rather low. In our countries, women in particular are told to value their youth and beauty as something that is given an absolute expiration date. As such, many 20-something year olds suddenly feel the pressure to get married, find a stable job, and live the conventional life.
The interesting thing? Despite our cultures’ emphasis on being young, we strive to live for old age. The idea of a retirement fund – and “working hard for retirement” – has become ingrained in us. Everything we do is to ensure our security in our “old” years. Although the clash of these two very different ideals never really seemed odd to me before, it now appears to be exactly that.
Whilst I lived in Spain, I noticed that “living for old age” was never an acceptable theory. Spanish culture is all about living in the present; and while saving for the future, for a family, or anything other than the present is important, it is not enough to sacrifice current happiness. At certain times, I wondered to myself if I could keep up with this lifestyle; that I would probably see the years pass me by without much notice, considering how quickly my time there flew by. It was difficult to understand, but altogether, an immense life lesson. In Spain, it never felt as though one was told to hurry up and obtain certain achievements before a ridiculously young age. In fact, it always appeared to be the opposite – that with age, wisdom (or relative wisdom) usually followed. To be a married person with children never meant that your life, as an individual, was over. Instead, your life merely transitioned into its new phase, with your previous interests still being at least somewhat valued.
What I learned from Madrid was to live in the present. Although it’s important that I save for the future, I am not – and never will be – ready to forgo my aspirations in order to pursue the “normal” North American life. We need to understand that life is about experiences, happiness, and finding time for who/what you love. This includes a different type of life, family, and career for each individual, rather than one set way of being. This also means that career will not always be at the forefront, and that we are not defined by our career.
I’m not entirely sure why I feel the need to reiterate a very basic fact of life. It could be perhaps I believe that we, as a society, have forgotten what is truly important. It could be that we, as a whole, place too much importance on materialism and acquiring tangible goods. It could also be that I’ve only just begun to realize that maybe I just don’t belong here.