Our culture glorifies youth. Even the word “old” is one we would prefer to avoid. Negative messages about age come at us our entire lives.
Throughout my life, I have heard people say: “So-and-so can’t do that, they’re too old.” Or there’s the notion that as a woman, you shouldn’t say your age. But the stigma around age is such nonsense, because getting older is a natural part of life. It happens to every person on the planet! Getting older should not be something to be feared.
At 43, I love my age.
Almost all of us know that ageism is out there. It’s a type of discrimination that touches almost every person at some point in their life or career.
Discrimination is unfortunately a subject I know far too much about — not only when it comes to age, but also because of my gender and race.
I live as a black woman in America. My race and gender are two things in this country that are constantly under examination. Every time I walk in a door, who I am and my capabilities are perceived differently once people see my face.
Having been through that my entire life, not only my adult life, but also as a child, I used to get so exhausted by the burden of caring what others thought. But what I learned from it was that being too tired to care anymore can be a powerful thing.
It’s good when you don’t want to put up with it anymore — that same old thing the world is giving you. Then it’s time to change the world.
My experiences inspired me to not care what people thought of me, and that remains the case now, with my age. I no longer allow myself to be limited by other people’s perceptions of me. Instead I focus on my inner strength, and the part of me that says, “I have to do this.”
Age Is Just a Number
Many people encounter ageism at some point in their career. And it’s not only reserved for women, or older people.
In a survey by Glassdoor, 30 percent of workers report experiencing ageism at some point in their careers, and most of the people who report it are actually younger (between ages 18 and 34).
Ageism is also insidious because it’s difficult to identify. Age means something different for everyone. Being a particular age doesn’t reveal a static truth about your person, your experiences, or your skills. As a black woman over forty, I reject people treating me worse or differently for my race or my gender, but I also reject discrimination based on my age — in the workplace or anywhere else.
When I had the life-changing opportunity to go to Africa last year for the first time, I witnessed firsthand that age there is associated with wisdom, as it is in many other places around the world. If you’re over the age of sixty, you are revered as a walking source of information, wisdom, knowledge, and life lessons.
You’re a living lesson for your children and grandchildren. We ought to respect that older individuals are sources of wisdom since they’ve been here longer. There is value in the time they’ve put in on this earth.
Younger people also have a different type of insight to share. Diversity of age, like every type of diversity, enriches our lives and the organizations we work in.
Embracing and Valuing Aging
Ten years ago, I likely wouldn’t have told you my age. Now, on the contrary, I am proud that I’m 43 and thriving. Age is not a curse; it’s a blessing. That I’ve been able to live for 43 years in this body with this face, these hands, or these teeth is a gift.
I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve lived this long, and come this far in the world — and I don’t take it as a given.
Your age is part of the magic about what and when you came into being on this earth. Your particular place and role on this planet, including how long you’ve been here, is all a part of what makes you special.
That’s how I always chose to confront racial discrimination when I encountered it. Instead of letting myself take on shame, or other people’s feelings about how I look, I chose to view my skin color as part of what makes me special.
I see my age as a sign of wisdom, which is built on a set of important experiences and years of building skills. I was not created to be anyone but me.
Coming Into My Own Power
The invisible ageism that we know is so widespread in society was still stuck in my head when, at age 29, I decided I wanted to become a fitness model.
At that point, I never told anyone how old I was. I knew in theory no one ought to be denied opportunities based on age. But the negative culture surrounding age has had an impact on me, as it has for so many of us.
In the modeling world, fifteen is considered the ideal age to start out.
At some point, I had to decide that my will was stronger than just a number. Part of it was I wanted to change the fitness modeling world so girls like me would be given more of a chance. I didn’t worry about how it was going to happen.
What motivated me was remembering how as a teenager, when I looked at fitness magazines in the checkout aisle, there were never faces that looked like mine. I remember thinking, why shouldn’t there be women who look like me? And after that: Why can’t it be me who proves that a woman who looks like me can be featured in a spread in a magazine?
Back then, I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t know anybody in the fitness industry. There was no blueprint.
Oxygen is one of the most influential fitness magazines for women of any skin color. I decided to contact the magazine directly with my portfolio. I created a mega-sized poster, superimposed with my own face and body, wrapped it in cellophane, and shipped it to the editor-in-chief of the magazine.
She called me the next day and told me everybody on staff couldn’t stop talking about it. Her exact words were, “You did what you were supposed to do, which was to get our attention.” In the next breath she asked if I could meet her in New York City for lunch; she wanted to see my abs in real life!
After our meeting, she said she didn’t need to see anything else. She was going to feature me. Flash forward a couple of months later; I was flown to Canada for a shoot. I was featured in Oxygen four more times within two years. Then I was featured in Shape magazine as one of the top three trainers in the United States (out of 300,000 trainers). Fitness RX for Women came next, and my portfolio just kept growing.
Why did all of this happen? It was simple. I saw the problem. I didn’t see girls like me and wanted to see a different reality.
What you create, at any age, doesn’t have to reach millions of people.
If there’s something within you that you have to pursue, it’s never too late to do so.
Maintaining Your Power and Tending Your Flame at Any Age
Modeling in my late 20s and early 30s led to other opportunities including, in my late thirties, headlining a major event at ESSENCE Festival — the kinds of achievements I hadn’t even dreamed about when I was younger. I also had my first child at 38.
Everything that’s happened to Nicole Chaplin has always happened later. It’s just always been that way.
And I like to think, what if all this is just the beginning?
People often ask about the choices I make to be as active as I am (and not just “at my age,” either). If I had to distill the mindset that allowed me to embrace my power, regardless of age, it would come down to the following:
- Don’t let society dim your light, especially because of how you were created (whether that’s age, race, gender, or anything else.)
- You can do whatever you dream. We have all heard that, but to wake up each day and execute on that knowledge is a different animal.
- You are the one who has to get up every day. There’s no one going to get you up. If you don’t decide to swing your feet out of bed, move your body and get going, you’re going to atrophy.
- It’s your decision how you want to live. Unfortunately, not everybody makes that decision for themselves. Choose wisely.
- Take time for yourself. So many folks have their phones constantly on, which can be incredibly harmful to our equilibrium, health, and relationships.
- Be intentional about what you listen to or watch, and what you’re allowing your brain to absorb. We are inundated with information: If you’re in the cab in New York, there’s a TV on. You go to the gym, and there’s fifty TVs. You go to a restaurant, now they have TVs everywhere. I don’t watch TV.
- Write down your goals. Breaking those goals down into chunks as we do with Momentum planning is hugely helpful; e.g., “This week, I want to walk three days a week, three times per day, for 15 minutes.” At the end of the week, assess how you did, and adjust.
- Choose your circle of influence. These are the people who are shaping your life, and often your destiny. You want to find people at your side who are dreamers, visionaries, and idea sharers. Your friends should want to help you.
- Fitness isn’t everything, but it is a huge piece of the puzzle for our well-being, whatever age we are. I suggest to people: Be interested in what your body can do. Where can your physical stamina take you? Start small. Walk for 10 minutes. Eat one piece of fruit every day. With those small choices, you’ll feel more firmly in your power.
Being devoted to a healthy lifestyle at any age often means making different choices.
As just one example, my friends know they cannot invite me anywhere if the event starts late, because I’ll definitely be going home before midnight. 😂 I value my early mornings; doing otherwise would throw off my whole week.
I live a holistic life, and I’ve been that person my entire life: always active, roller-skating, cheerleading, track and field. I was also a dancer, and a choreographer at the University of Miami. Fitness for me hasn’t been about wanting to be strong for its own sake. It’s about stamina. It’s as basic as this: I like to do a lot of things, and to keep doing all the things I like, I need energy.
As a result of the way that I live, my energy stays high (and sometimes it’s even hard to turn it down). My aim is always to have stamina and endurance, and to be heart healthy. God forbid I trip on the stairs — am I able to catch myself?
It’s the simple stuff. I want and need to be able to keep up with my five year old, Dominic Zion. My own mother used to work very hard, so that on Saturday mornings, she would lie in bed exhausted. I knew I didn’t want to feel like that with my children, and wanted the energy to play with my child.
Now DZ is playing soccer, and I am able to keep up. When he wakes up on a Saturday morning, I’m already up and ready for him. I want to enjoy life to the fullest — going to East Africa, swimming with turtles.
For a lot of folks, if something doesn’t happen by the time you’re like 25, they say, “Oh well, that wasn’t my path.”
What if instead we ask: What if we’re far from done?