One person at the table guessed I was 26. Another was confident I was 30. I’m 42.
It wasn’t the first time there were misconceptions about my age. It’s not that I have a babyface. But I do consider myself eternally youthful and beyond numbers — and you can too.
Without a clear-cut definition of adulthood, a concept in constant flux, it’s not easy to explain how I walk the tightrope between youthfulness and maturity. My face is forever in that glorious stage of having both wrinkles and pimples, and I don’t use any creams besides sunscreen to help. I tend to sit cross-legged on chairs in restaurants, only because it feels more comfortable than having my feet swinging a few inches from the ground.
My hair happens to still be naturally brown and long. I’m growing it out to donate it to cancer patients for the third time. I don’t need reading glasses yet, either. When I got LASIK surgery 12 years ago, I stopped needing glasses altogether. I guess all this will change one day, and I’ll get lots of wrinkles, gray hair and glasses. But I’m not sure that will impact my eternal youth. I’d rather have my time in the sun than smooth skin, anyway. Plus, there is a super-funky glasses shop in Santa Fe that I look forward to visiting.
There are a lot of things that make people seem older than they are. But there are also a lot of things you can do to reverse the signs of what most people see as aging. I’m not talking about creams or chemicals or treatments, either. It’s entirely possible to be eternally youthful, regardless of your body or the color of your hair. Here are some tips to stopping the aging process:
Adopt a Casual Attitude
When people are insecure about themselves, which is inherently a childish behavior, they’ll try to portray an air of superiority or authority. What often happens is that this attitude becomes a habit that lasts a lifetime, and it’s a sure-fire way to get old, fast. I don’t wear brand names splashed across my chest, because I’m not trying to project some unsaid statement that I can afford better brands or have a better style than anyone else.
I always thank the bus driver when getting off at my stop, because I’m no better than she is. I smile at people when I pass them on my daily walk. I laugh at myself. I pet cats I meet in the street. If a friend is late for a coffee date, I consider it a gift of time.
I don’t need to prove to anyone that they should respect me. If they don’t, it’s their problem — and loss. Even when I was a, cough-cough, award-winning journalist, I preferred to call senators and CEOs by their first names. I’m not being disrespectful, just as I don’t think they were being disrespectful by calling me by my first name.
Years ago, I was caring for my friends’ dog in Argentina. I realized after they left that I didn’t know the commands in Spanish, so I had to teach the dog new commands. She used to get really hyper whenever we passed the neighbor’s house, so I looked up “chill out” on Google Translate. It offered: Relajate. Literally translating as, “relax yourself,” it’s good advice whenever you feel uptight.
Take Care of Your Body
Having a body that operates as it should also indicates youth, but not always. When I was in my early 20s, I took a few free classes in Taekwondo. As I “HI-YA’d!”, I imagined myself getting into the best shape of my life. However, thanks to my comical over-exuberance while grappling Sensei’s wife, I injured my knee. I hobbled around for the next six weeks and felt very old. Luckily, I didn’t require surgery, and I allowed my body to heal.
Twenty years later, I can touch my toes and run a few, steady kilometers. In the last year, I dove with hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos, hiked up a volcano in Guatemala and played my ukulele in a tiny home I built along the gentle shores of Tasmania while sipping local gin.
Why does my body allow me to enjoy these activities in a youthful, relaxed way? It’s simple: I take care of myself. For 27 years, I’ve eaten a plant-based, primarily whole foods diet, with plenty of extended fasting periods every month or so. I also move my body every day. I usually come pretty close to my 10,000-steps daily goal, and I also do my best to make time for yoga. When I drink alcohol, I do it in moderation, and I stay sober for a few months a year. I drink lots of water and sleep well. This doesn’t cost money, but it does demand diligence. Consistency is key.
If your body aches with chronic illness already, fear not. Your path to eternal youth comes from recognizing the difference between pain and suffering. You know how really old people only talk about their doctor visits and how they hurt? I’m not saying to ignore your body, but I’m suggesting it’s possible to transcend it. Think of a kid who falls down and scrapes a knee. He cries because it hurts, but soon he’s up and at it. If necessary, invest in an ice cream cone or professional massage for yourself. The more you love your body, the more it will love you.
Never Make Your Age an Excuse
Halfway up that Guatemalan volcano, leaning on the hiking stick the tour group provided, I found myself breathing heavily. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I thought to myself, “You know, maybe I’m too old for this.” That’s when I (literally) stumbled upon a man in my group who was also lagging far behind the rest. In my broken Spanish, I asked him how old he was. He was 27. Right on that wicked slope, in the midst of a hailing thunderstorm, I promised myself never to use age as an excuse again.
As a yoga teacher, I often hear students blame their age for why they can’t get into a pose. That’s nonsense. There are all kinds of elderly people who are flexible and strong. All you have to do is work at whatever you want — whether it’s a physical or a mental act — and you can do it. You can blame your lack of focused willpower, but don’t blame your years. Don’t underestimate yourself.
In fact, I go a step further. I don’t make excuses for anything in my life. I am my own best friend. If there’s something I want to do, I have faith in myself that I will get strong enough, make enough money, or use my brainpower to figure it out. I often use positive self-talk. Why beat yourself up? Kids pick themselves up when they fall down, but adults create traumas and fear. Old-thinking people decide they “can’t,” and that certain behaviors are “crazy.” To think eternally youthfully, you must always remember that this world is a big, beautiful place for you to live and explore.
Just as fear is the enemy of love, anger and stress is the enemy of youth. It is vital for eternal youth to surround yourself with people who love and support you as you become the best version of yourself. Remember how easy it was to make friends when you were a kid? Well, it’s still easy. Interact with as many people as possible in real life. Say hello. Tell them you like their shoes. Ask them a question about themselves. Share your contact information. Make a plan. And if you discover they’re not your kind of person, don’t sweat it.
Lots of adults rely on their smartphone for entertainment and superficial social interaction. If you ever wonder if screen time is a problem, flip on your camera and look at yourself staring at your device. Chances are, you won’t look young.
There’s science behind the health benefits of good, close relationships. Dr. Robert Waldinger, who is overseeing the long-term Harvard Adult Development Study, encourages everyone to actively replace workmates with playmates. That means more laughter, more hugging and more connection.
Even as I travel by myself internationally, I still make new friends and focus energy in staying in touch with old friends. These people matter to me. First, I worked on my relationship with myself, and then I worked on my relationships with those I love. I love many people, and I feel loved, too.
In fact, the more you consider people in the world “future friends,” the less conflict you’ll have in your life. This helps when you’re striving for eternal youth. Of course, in strange places you need to be smart and remember not everyone has your best interests in mind — but that doesn’t mean you have to have negative feelings about others. Community is an important part of not just discovering new friendships, but also discovering yourself and the important role you have in the world around you. No one else can do what you can do. You’re special. Show it.
Don’t Be Scared of Death
A lot of people are worried about death. It’s understandable! That’s about as scary as it can get! And yet, I think about the wise words from my grandmother at my grandfather’s funeral. I said, “Grandma, how are you? Are you OK?” And she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, what are you going do?” This woman devotedly loved her husband, but she was completely right. Death can’t stop you from living.
The best way to stay eternally youthful is to live your life fully. That means doing things that feel good to you and not doing things that don’t feel good. People waste their lives away at jobs they hate, because they feel like they have to. Or, they stay in intimate relationships with incompatible people and suffer. If you confront them, they’ll come up with a list of excuses. In reality, they’re scared of change and don’t believe they deserve better. But you do.
Try new things. Be risky. The more you stay curious about the world, the more you realize there’s a lot to learn. The more you learn, the more you’ll want to learn. Stay a student. So many people decide that they’re “so busy” that they don’t have time to read a book, daydream, learn a new musical instrument or stroll along a beach.
Sure, everyone has busy moments, but if you’re plagued with this, you must take responsibility and control over your schedule. This is the inconvenient truth of feeling old: You are doing it to yourself. Instead of discovering excitement in your own life, you may have delegated that time toward living vicariously through others on television or social media. If you wish you could do something, you must believe in yourself and try. Busy yourself with your own personal projects, and you will never be bored and rarely feel overwhelmed.
If you are busy enjoying your life, you’ll never need to worry about when it ends. It’s not like we ever know, anyway. Besides, wouldn’t it be great for people to look at your ridiculously old body in your casket and think, “A shame, she died so young!”