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10 Ways to Be a Rebel After 80

Writer Elaine Soloway believes it's never too late to be confident and fearless


Because I have a tattoo dotting each bicep, and because I frequently flavor my dialogue with an epithet that starts with an “f” and ends in “k,” folks have labeled me a rebel (or another, more profane word). And as a 4’9″, 80 1/2-year old woman with hair and face in their original wrappers, these same people believe I’m an adorable doozy.

While I’m appreciative of this applause, I’m countering that it is neither my body art, my salty language, my diminutive size, nor my avoidance of hair dye or cosmetic surgery that make me a rebel. Instead, I have 10 rules I’ve adopted over the years and am continually enhancing.

So, if you’d like to be considered fearless, authentic and confident, heed these 10 steps:

1. Stop kvetching and count your blessings. No one wants to hear about your symptoms, soreness or stabbing pain. Save that for your physician. But if you have a life-threatening illness, don’t wait for friends to ask what you need; tell them. A wise woman I know recently did just that and I was grateful for her list. (I sent a Whole Foods gift card.)

2. Call out racial and ethnic profiling. When someone in your cohort complains, “they want to take our jobs,” or “they overburden the welfare system” or “they are never on time,” open your [email protected]#$%^g mouth and demand that the blowhard provide credible backup research.

3. Learn how to be comfortable with technology. Please don’t announce you long for the good old days of telephones with cords and faxes. Knowing how to use a cell phone can save your life; texting your offspring (rather than complaining that she or he never calls) will endear your child to you and using Lyft or Uber shared rides will give you independence and opportunities for socialization.

4. Sign on to social media. Don’t think of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram as frivolous outlets for sharing photos of your pup or vacation. They are also places for information you may not see in your daily life. For example, I read several local and national publications online, which makes it easy for me to be a curator. I copy and paste intriguing paragraphs, share on social media and then wait for the conversations and debates to begin.

5. Add creativity to your life. If you once played the piano, sang or painted, reverse course and return to these talents as an older, less perfectionist person. Use my criteria of mediocrity, a level more easily attainable. And if those pursuits don’t excite you, try taking a class in improv, storytelling or some other fun thing that could hype your audacity.

6. Be curious. You have my permission to leap before you look — sort of my trademark. Imprint this on your head: If it doesn’t work out, I can always… move back…take a different job…drop out. Yes, you have my blessing to drop out. Don’t worry about being embarrassed about a misstep that might embed you in joyless situations.

7. Never say, It’s too late for meIf you’re still breathing and you’ve read this far, you’ve still got time. Along with my tattoos and authentic hair and face, I’m renowned for learning how to swim at 79. Because of a near drowning at an early age, I had a longtime fear of water over my head. A vacation in Provincetown, Mass., when everyone I knew and loved there joyously leaped over the rim of our pontoon and left me sitting solo in a life jacket, prompted a vow to find a coach who would teach me how to swim. I did, she did and my tattoo of a seahorse is my reward.

8. Find a cause and promote it. I donate to many nonprofits that mirror my ideals, but I’ve landed on one that has become my obsession: acknowledging racial history. As a white woman, I recognize my privilege, and my obligation to become an ally. Thus, my current reading list contains only African-American authors and part of my daily Facebook shares are links to articles, podcasts and upcoming events that reflect my pursuit.

9. Be respectful of preferred gender pronouns. Many people my age scoff at those who correct the mistaken pronoun. The resisters complain the titles are tongue twisters or require extra thought. If you’re unsure, just ask. Mine are she/her/hers. Yours?

10. Be honest. Tell your age, and share your stories of struggle or disappointment. This is not kvetching; it is finding common humanity. And if you’ve done something that deserves trumpets and balloons, let your friends know that, too. Never hide your sense of achievement because you are averse to bragging.

By Elaine Soloway
Elaine Soloway is a PR consultant, writing coach and tech tutor, and the author of Bad Grandma and Other Chapters in a Life Lived Out Loud and Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss. The Emmy Award-winning television series 'Transparent' was created by Elaine Soloway's daughter Jill and inspired by their family. Follow Elaine on Facebook, Twitter @elainesoloway and Instagram.

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