Why I’m thrilled to be 50 years old

Little Johnny

Here I am as a baby. When this picture was taken, my whole life was ahead of me.

At some point, though, most of us stop looking forward and start looking back. We stop thinking that the best is yet to come.

For me, that point came in my 30s. That’s when I started thinking of aging as a process of inevitable decay. I saw signs of it in myself, and if you asked me then what I’d feel like at 50, I’d have likely said “depressed.”

Well, I’ll turn 50 this week and I’m not depressed about it. Instead, I’m genuinely happy.

Here’s why.

The basic elements of a good, long life

In my 40s, I started learning that the secrets to a good, long life weren’t so secret. While the science isn’t perfect, there’s broad agreement on the basics: good food, regular exercise, strong social connections, a sense of purpose. Persistence and conscientiousness help, too.

These things don’t guarantee a long, healthy life, but they do increase the odds quite a bit. And you can readily learn about them by reading up on The Longevity Project, for example, or by watching this TED talk on “How to live to be 100.”

Certain cultures seems to live this way naturally. The people in Okinawa, Japan for example, have the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world partly because they have a very different diet and way of living than, say, people in New York City. They’re also aware of the importance of having “ikigai”, meaning “the reason you wake up in the morning.”

Their outlook on life and aging, one I increasingly admire, is reflected in this Okinawan saying:

“At 70 you are still a child, at 80 a young man or woman. And if at 90 someone from Heaven invites you over, tell him: ‘Just go away, and come back when I am 100.’”

Changing habits, changing perspective

When are the best years of your life? I’ve realized that the answer to that question depends more on your habits and your perspective than on how long you’ve been on the planet.

As I learned more about better ways of living, I gradually changed my life. I exchanged junk food for whole foods (and ultimately a vegetarian diet). I stopped commuting and started exercising regularly. I unplugged cable TV and started spending more time learning new things. And, thanks to the work I do, I developed a bigger social network and found my “ikigai.”

Of course, these habits may not be right for you. But my hope is that, no matter how old you are, you make choices that give you a healthy perspective. And you develop habits that help you live with both an appreciation of the present and a sense of excitement about the possibilities.

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
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27 Responses to Why I’m thrilled to be 50 years old

  1. Tracy Sas says:

    Happy Birthday and keep growing! Life is a gift.

  2. Rick Anderson says:

    Happy Birthday John… Yes, it keeps getting better…

  3. Guy Lipman says:

    I read somewhere that the sign of being in the right job was that your good friends would recognise you in your working ‘self’. I’d add that the sign of living your life right is that you are clearly the same person as you were in that baby photo! Happy birthday, and I’m sure the next 50 years will be even better!

  4. Earl Carnes says:

    Congratulations John! I have a head start on you, next week I turn 65. And so you’ll know, the past 10 have been the best yet. Finding, or creating, purpose and meaning in life, is key to a happy, healthy person and likewise for a healthy and resilient organization. Keep up the good work, and have a Happy Birthday!

    • John Stepper says:

      Thank you, Earl. I love your comment. That you feel 55-65 has been “the best yet” is certainly worth a blog post. Will you? I know so many pre-50 people who see the future through gray-colored glasses. They need help to see the possibilities!

      • wecarnes says:

        Hi John,
        Apologies for the delay, retiring, moving, all at once. My schedule is hectic. May I email you a suggested blog in response to your gracious invitation?


      • John Stepper says:

        Yes! If you mean send me a draft to edit or just to comment on, I’d be honored. My email address is just my name at gmail. Looking forward to it.

  5. Newidad says:

    Happy Birthday John!

    Many more years of health, contentment, innovation and excitement!

    Best Michael Norwich

    Sent from my iPad

  6. Sharon Jurkovich says:

    Happy Birthday John! You are the youngest 50 year old person I’ve ever met. Here’s to the next 50!

  7. Ayelet says:

    This is brilliant! Happy birthday, John.
    I know you’ll tell them to come back at 110!

  8. elsua says:

    Hi John! My goodness! You are just such a toddler! 😛 haha No, seriously, happy birthday, my friend. What a beautiful blog post you have put together over here that’s just worth while musing about at any given possible time, specially, when things may have gotten a big rough. This quote is priceless: “good food, regular exercise, strong social connections, a sense of purpose. Persistence and conscientiousness help, too”. Quite a life mantra altogether!

    But it got *even* better. Finding your “ikigai”. Splendid reflection! That’s just as good as it gets, indeed, at least, for me, too. And it reminds me of a thought I heard from a well known technology celebrity who earlier on went through celebrating the milestone of the 50 year old mark and he mentioned how one day he realised he was now at the tipping point of saying what he always wanted to say, vs. pleasing others, because he knew that he’s reached the stage of not having to please anyone, but one-self. And that’s probably where it all begins, pleasing yourself will probably give you plenty of guarantees you would be able to please others.

    That’s the stupendous job you have done over the course of the years and, best part of it all, is that you have done it without asking anything in return. A gift we should, and always!, will treasure!

    Happy birthday, young man, here’s to many many decades to come in good health and with plenty of “ikigai”! 😀

    • John Stepper says:

      I love your posts, Luis. Your energy & passion for life comes through in your writing and I’m smiling a big smile as I read your comment. Thank you!

      • elsua says:

        Hi John, many thanks for that kind and lovely follow-up! Likewise, my friend! Not sure how you manage to make it happen but every time you post something there is a big smile coming along over here as well, specially, as I keep imagining what it’s like being in your shoes trying to make a dent in the toughest of universes out there and succeeding big time! Please do keep it up as I really look forward into reading what you would be up to when you reach 60 (And beyond!).

        Enjoy the 50th birthday for the moment, though. You know, one step at a time, seize the day AND the opportunity!

  9. timgincentralnj says:

    Great, insightful piece, John. And a very Happy Birthday to you. On an aside, great baby pic. Isn’t it funny how we all (well, most of us anyway) eventually end up with the same haircut we started out with? Must be part of some divine plan, I wonder…. 😉 -Tim

  10. Kavi says:

    Happy Birthday John! Heres wishing you a great fulfilling time ahead, with loads of happiness, health and generosity!

    Ever since the time that I interacted with you in Berlin, I have been following your work and thoughts and they have been enriching. To say the least.

    Heres wishing you a ton of good luck in the times ahead! 🙂

    • John Stepper says:

      Thank you, Kavi, and thank you to everyone here for the birthday wishes. I realize, belatedly, that such a post is fishing for good wishes! I apologize for that but am happy to receive them nonetheless! 🙂

  11. Andy says:

    Many happy returns and a what a way to celebrate with a great blog!

    It amazes me how differently people react to hitting these age milestones. I’ve just turned 30 and some of my friends seem to embrace it, whilst others are more cautious about it (seeing it as a sense of ‘getting old now’). I guess it depends on how much and how far you achieved with your life goals to whether you feel time is overtaking you or you are way ahead of what you could ever wish for (for me it is the later, so onwards and upwards).

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Andy! Yes, the angst of 30 can be just as intense (if not more so) than angst at other ages. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is a challenge for many (and certainly me) but it does seem to be a learnable skill.

    • John Stepper says:

      And I wonder about the idea of “it depends on how much and how far you achieved with your life goals.” I’d say most people don’t have life goals other than being happy or, more precisely, fulfilled. Such a subjective goal! And it’s so hard, in fact, that we use proxies for fulfillment like money, perhaps, or other, poorer substitutes.

      The best practical manual for life I’ve ever read is “Are You Ready to Succeed?” by Srikumar Rao. I’ll have to write about that soon… 🙂

  12. O_Berard says:

    Hi John and happy birthday.

    Your post remind me how to be happy in life. And as i read you do the good choice ;).
    We are more happy when we change habits and so when we do an intellectual effort (learning more) ou physical efforts (diet) than watching tv.

    More over, I think the more we are happy, the more our loved ones or relationships are happy.

    Thank for all your sharing welcome in a new age 😉

  13. Cynthia says:

    The best thing about being over 50, you stop caring about what people think about you and you tend to speak your mind more. I am grateful for everyday that the Lord blesses me with.

    • John Stepper says:

      For sure, I do care less about what others think and care more about finding meaning and fulfillment. Some of my old (bad) habits die hard, though, so the progress is gradual. I imagine 90 would be a real blast. 🙂

  14. briankeane99 says:

    Hi John, My Saturday morning coffee has been missing it’s inspirational read for a few weeks. For me it’s the implied personal challenge to make a real change that you lay down to the reader that I like best. Quietly and privately (not quite in in the spirit of some of your other L O L message) I’ve taken up quite a few both at work and at home with the girls. I hope you are just on an extended 50th birthday break ( you do have to pace yourself 🙂 ) and will be back filling 1000s of people’s Saturdays with thought provoking pieces very soon.

    Belated Happy Birthday !!!

    Best regards, Brian

    Sent from my iPhone


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