I remember being chastised by my parents to “act my age.” I was all of seven so I’m not sure what that was supposed to mean. Not act like a six year old I guess. Probably what it meant was to stop talking, which I did a lot.

But when are you old? When does the shift occur where you’re no longer supposed to act your age, but you’re defined as being healthier if you seem younger than you are?

But feeling older can happen at any age. We use that phrase after a very difficult or very painful experience has occurred. “Suddenly I feel older.” I’ve taken that to mean wiser, maybe more fatigued, more embattled but having survived. Or it can mean you have an awareness of reaching a more mature potential – it’s a positive thing.

So I asked a group of women bloggers what had made them “suddenly” feel older.

The answers I got were fun, poignant, inspiring and surprising.

I’ve group their answers into categories:

Awareness of responsibility…

“I looked older than my age at 13 so I had more friends older than myself. I did things I should not have at an early age and thought I was ‘grown.’ At 19 married and pregnant with my first child I realized I was not as old as I thought”.

“I’ve always felt older than my peers. My parents called my an old soul.

How you’re treated by others…

“When I went to the MD shortly after my 40th birthday and she kept taking about preventative treatments for ‘women my age.'” –

“When some college girls danced by and said, ‘I hope I can have as much fun as you when I am your age!’ What!?!? We are just – oh yeah 38-40. Ugh.”

“When I was teaching middle school– I had my 27th birthday — and a student guessed that I was 45!😬. He said that’s how old his Mom was! Guess all adults were the same to him!”

“I also remember noticing a difference in the way people treated me as I progressed in my 40’s and I gained about 25 pounds which made it worse. I don’t know if it’s the weight gain or the age or the energy I was putting off but I don’t think I was imagining that difference.”

“I feel that I’m moving into a different part of my life(awaiting menopause and life beyond) while my mother is passing into old age -theres a rebalancing of our relationship – Mother often asks for my opinion now and for reassurance-”

Being seen (and seeing yourself) as competent…

“(At) 31. At the time it was really magnified for me that the company was listening to my ideas, using them & finding success! The reason why this was so tough for me was because I was a teenage mom (15 yo) and for years I was told to quit school & just be happy to find a husband and forget making anything out of my life. Instead, I graduated high school, finished college with a bachelors degree and was helping to make a difference in a multi-million dollar organization. Once I realized the people I associated with (work & personal life) didn’t see me as some irresponsible teenager that got pregnant and ruined her life – I realized I was no longer ‘a kid.’ I realized I was someone who had some extraordinary life experience and was able to turn that experience into an asset not a hindrance.”

“I was aware in my 20’s but it only really hit me when I hit 30, and I realized I was looking for ‘the adult in the room’ then it hit me- I am an adult 🙄👀”

Awareness of time passing, loss and mortality…

“Just recently in my 30s when my grandparent passed away. It made me realize that my parents are now really the oldest generation and then me.”

“It was my 30th birthday and my youngest sons 4th Birthday. We were taking big brother to school and were hit from behind pushed up into a car in front of us. No one was hurt and I had not been excited about turning 30. It seemed so old to me at the time. I quickly decided I was glad to be 30 and all that came with it LOL

“Mostly I think it was just not having ‘little kids’ anymore. But, in June our 1st grandson was born so all is good ❤️”

“At 60 (it) hit me but I have really been cognizant and somewhat melancholy about my mortality. NOT that I am not beyond grateful and grounded in my faith but having grandchildren is a whole new level of “wanting” to live!!!!”

“At 50 -became aware of my mortality-my father died when I was 23, so I had experienced death, just never considered it might happen to me!”

Lack of acceptance and staying in denial..

“I think I’m still in denial. Just turned 55.”

Loss of purpose or vitality…

“At 70, I’m not as limber.”

“The year I turned 40 was fabulous! It’s been the years since, that I haven’t lived happily that make the number seem sad.”

“I was aware in my 20’s but it only really hit me when I hit 30, and I realized I was looking for ‘the adult in the room’ then it hit me- I am an adult 🙄👀”

And on the more positive side – 

Living more by your own rules…

“At 25 it felt like I had not choice but to be a responsible adult and always take care of things and people, again at 35 I realized I wasn’t living the life I wanted and tried to make changes using others expectations, which of course did not work, 45 thought you have had 10 years to make the changes you want or need to make so get started and then I started making decisions based on me and turned my life upside down and it is now better than ever. Turned 55 last week and hardly even thought about it, I guess because I am trying to life my live for me and not have regrets.”

Letting go and feeling free…

“You look at the skin on your hands and it shows your life story. (I’m proud of my wrinkled hands it shows how hard I have worked).”

“Other people my age look at me and see one person doing the grown up stuff of two people! That must make me doubly grown up and responsible. My oldest child is now 18. And I still feel as silly inside as I did when I was her age and starting out in the world. I like to think this is why I can so readily access free spirited joy.”

“Something really cool about this point in my life is how much less I care about how others see me. This has been freeing for me in a lot of ways!”

Creating a fresh slate…

“30 was a big deal for me because I felt like it was a fresh start after a decade of self-hurt and heartache.”

I bet some of these ring true for you — they did for me. And what wisdom is there. Thank you all.

What is our age but a composite of our experience? When we create happiness, when we move out of a painful place, when we feel competent, when we accept our vulnerability, when we connect with gratitude, when we respect ourselves and others, when we realize our potential, when we mourn the losses we and others have experienced, when we maintain purpose, when we love and are loved — all of that can balance the aches, the wrinkles — even the ambiguity of not knowing.


You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!

My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.

And there’s a new way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Originally published on July 29, 2018; updated and republished on July 4, 2020.

When Are You Old? 24 Surprising Answers to That Question via @doctormargaret
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