Getting older but still growing

by | Jul 23, 2021 | Thoughts



Learning something new in older age reminds us that we’re always growing.

Recently I had a powerful dream that I was skating in some celestial roller disco. There were few moments in my youth to beat the sheer joy of roller skating. Could I recapture this several decades later? I was looking for a more challenging lockdown exercise and skating seemed to fit the bill.

The kit has changed since the 1970s. The skates are high performance and come with a ‘street’ aesthetic that might seem incongruous on a middle-aged woman. And since roller skating is these days considered a dangerous sport, I wear helmet, knee pads, wrist and elbow guards. Getting ready for a morning in the park can feel like preparing for some futuristic battle.


What has changed since my Aunty Carol tutored me in the finer points of gliding, turning and stopping? I’m a few pounds heavier with creakier joints and a weakened core. And yet, strangely, the greatest challenge is not my ageing body but the fear and shame that accompany many women (and men?) who transgress the rules of age appropriateness.

‘Don’t look at your feet, your brain will tell your body it wants to fall’, is the advice from the skating teacher. So, I look into the middle distance, my chin high, my tummy tucked in, hips low, arms stretched, and I shift my weight from side to side to side. It comes back to me, that delectable feeling of freedom, power, speed.

It is only when I catch a reflection of myself that an ancient fear grips me, telling me I look ridiculous, warning me not to get ‘too cocky’. The confident rhythm I’ve reconnected with collapses, and I crash into the wall and cling to the sides to get my breath and restore my dignity.

I recognise the self-critic, ostensibly there to stop me making a fool of myself, to know my place, to keep within my limits. It’s there to attack me, to make sure I fall.

Despite these voices off, the deliciousness of mastering a skill is motivation enough for me to pick myself up and try again. The younger students in the class enjoy a physical prowess and fearlessness I can no longer call upon. But I celebrate my progress nonetheless: two years ago, after months in hospital, I could barely walk let alone glide on eight wheels. So, while my skill is modest when compared to that of  even the six-year-olds in the class, it does two things for me. It reintroduces me to joy in movement that I haven’t felt since I was a kid. I feel giddy with excitement and notice that I hold myself in a far less apologetic way. It also connects me to an indomitable part of me, the wellspring of my determination.

When acquiring a new skill, we might keep in mind a gold standard and compare ourselves accordingly and unfavourably. But sometimes, acquiring a skill is a process of testing and stretching ourselves without any reference to others.

I measure each new move against the level I could manage the week before and in this, I experience growth and potential for more. That is why, for me, learning at any age, always has intrinsic value.

The barrier-pushing I have experienced on roller skates has helped me nurture self-confidence. And it’s taught me too that when we learn, falling is inevitable so it’s best to learn how to fall in a way that minimises injury to both limbs and pride. That’s a lesson for other aspects of my life. (Our skating instructor Tessa made sure knowing how to pick ourselves up was our very first lesson).

Simone de Beauvoir observed that if we are to avoid our old age becoming an absurd parody of our former life, we need to ‘go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning.’ We now know from a recent study that, owing to our biology, we cannot slow the rate at which we grow older. But, given the right conditions and a healthy contempt for ageist attitudes, we can, as Carl Rogers noticed, be older and still growing.


  1. Ria

    I love that you are doing this. I just followed someone on Instagram, who is a skater, because, like yourself, it was something that evoked joy as a child. I love watching her videos. Perhaps someday soon, I too will get the courage to revisit this pastime with my inner child.

    • Mel Whyatt

      Thank you for reading and feeding back. Hope you find the courage too. I’ve found taking the risk of falling to be well worth those moments of joy. Mel.


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