Years ago, I was interviewing someone who, after a decades-long career as a librarian, was going back to school to become a therapist. Bone-deep fatigue and unpredictable symptom flare-ups from a form of inflammatory arthritis were making the physical demands of continuing full-time with his first career too difficult. So, at age 50+, he’d decided to pursue turning a passion he’d discovered while acting as a peer counsellor for a local LGBTQ organization into a new profession.
While I’d been writing for the 55+ crowd for several years, at the time, I was still quite a bit younger than my readers. From my perspective, it seemed that the half-century mark represented a fork in the road for many people. Some seemed content to remain fairly static and sometimes even shrink away from trying anything new. Other people sought new experiences and expanded their horizons, growing in the process.
What, I wondered, made someone follow one path or the other?
Today, with a couple more decades of health reporting and that 55th birthday behind me, and I still don’t have a clear answer to that question.
One neuroscientist and author believes that an individual’s personality traits play an influential role in whether we grow and flourish after midlife.
But don’t all of us feel that our personality hasn’t changed much since childhood? I can’t be the only 50+ individual who’s taken aback every time she looks in the mirror because inside, she doesn’t feel much different than the person she was at, say, 12 or 13.
However, some recent research suggests that our personalities aren’t as fixed as was once widely believed. Just as we can strengthen a muscle by practicing specific exercises, we can nurture qualities such as resilience.
So what are a few of the things that we can do to stay engaged in life as we get older?
My heartfelt thanks to the interviewees who so kindly shared their time and expertise:
- Dr. Jennifer Bethel, affiliate scientist at the KITE Research Institute (part of Toronto Rehab and the University Health Network); assistant professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto’s Dala Lana School of Public Health, and an adjunct scientist at ICES.
- Dr. Heather Herriot, at Concordia University in Montreal.
- Dr. William Randall, professor of gerontology at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB, who is also an author and speaker.
- Patricia Williams, an art therapist, certified counsellor, and trained Mindful Self Compassion teacher in Victoria, BC. She is the owner and proprietor of Heartwork integrated art therapy services.