Growing old creatively - a guide for people over 64

| 18th May 2018
Alan Heeks

Alan (left) at his Hazel Hill Wood retreat centre.

The self help section of your average bookshop has seen many a new addition in recent times. But among the numerous guides to happiness, mindfulness and well being, there are few titles written specifically for men. Writer ALAN HEEKS believes the men are often overlooked in this genre of books when it’s often men who need the help the most...

I could see that men needed help more than women, as shown by the high rates of depression, addiction and other problems at this age.

My interest in creative ageing began with a midlife crisis which started just before my 50th birthday. I moved out of my 27-year old marriage, leaving the family home and my two daughters. The following year brought depression, a cancer scare, and the loss of my main client for training work.

It took me several years of turmoil to find myself again, but I had some rich adventures on the way, including blind dating, learning to cook, tantra groups, and a lot of solo time at the Hazel Hill Wood retreat centre I have created.

My first book, The Natural Advantage: Renewing Yourself, published in 2000 when I was 52, was one fruit of my mid-life crisis. It took another 10 years, until I was 62, for me to get some perspective on my own mid-life journey, and to start writing what became my second book, Out of the Woods: A Guide to Life for Men Beyond 50. 

Just for men

I wrote my second book specifically for men for three reasons. Firstly, I believed I understood their journey well, not only from my own experience, but from many years of involvement in men’s groups.

Secondly, I could see that men needed help more than women, as shown by the high rates of depression, addiction and other problems at this age. And thirdly, I was afraid that if I wrote a book on creative ageing for men and women, women would bite my head off and tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about.

In fact, my experience of researching and promoting Out of the Woods showed me that women much better understood the issues of creative ageing and why men needed the book - far better than men did. With this discovery, I was emboldened to start running workshops for mixed groups on creative ageing, but with a female co-leader.

By the age of 67, I hit another stage in my own creative ageing process, with turning 70 now on the horizon: this felt seriously old, and feeling daunted, I realised that I was not entirely walking my talk about the upsides of growing older. 

The impetus for writing my latest book Not Fade Away was quite personal: I wanted to unpack and work through my fears of turning 70, and I was guessing that if this landmark was bothering me, it would also be bothering many other Baby Boomers. My research for the book, among women and men, suggests that many of the issues at this life stage are similar for both genders, whereas research for my previous book had shown more differences between them during their fifties. 

The Baby Boomer generation

Not Fade Away aims to cover all the major issues around ageing for the Baby Boomer generation, focused on three major themes:

1.Value what you have

If you’re temperamentally anxious, like me, it’s easy to get preoccupied by worries about ageing. We need to make repeated, conscious choices to put more attention on the blessings of our life, and give thanks for them. Doing this can really raise our morale, and make our experience of the average day much happier. 

2.Be willing to face your fears

This is crucial in mid-life, around 50-60, but a fresh wave of issues is likely to hit us between 65 and 75. At this stage, we may have new challenges around health, money, partnership, elderly or dying parents, and facing the idea of our own mortality. I’ve seen many people at this age discover that it was taking more energy to suppress and deny their problems than to face them. Very often, there is useful wisdom in our fears if we can learn to talk with them.

3.Take a fresh outlook

Over the past few years, I’ve been closely observing people who are in their seventies. There seem to be two main patterns. Some people narrow down their life, deepen into old habits and beliefs, and just accept a steady loss of friends, work contacts and more.

Others find the strength to re-invent themselves, and discover that the seventies can be a period of fresh growth, new friends, and great creativity. Not Fade Away offers a range of new approaches which have helped me and others to do this.

A prime example is ‘Change the Story’: recognise that recurring problems in our lives often arise because we are repeating an old story from a painful childhood experience; if we can name the story, we can also name and consciously choose a more positive narrative to live by.

I’m glad to say that writing Not Fade Away has helped me move through my fears of turning 70. I hope this book will help people of any age, from young adults through to the over seventies. 

This Author

Alan Heeks is a writer and workshop leader who has been exploring wellbeing and resilience for many years. His new book, Not Fade Away: staying happy when you're over 64, was published on Tuesday 1st May.  All proceeds from the book will be donated to the charity Action for Happiness. See more at www.naturalhappiness.net.