How to Age with Grace: Part Two

For young men finding their own style, a sequel to the first part: A guide to navigating aging and looking good, while building a framework for yourself that lasts and finding confidence in the world as a new adult.
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Created by Uchechi Princewill

Published on Jun 13, 2024
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How to Age with Grace: Part Two

In the prequel to this article, I talked about graceful aging from two physical perspectives: skincare and dress sense. How our skin looks, how we feel and are perceived in the clothes we wear—these things are foundational to our self-esteem and to the ease of our social interactions. But why is this? If we don’t answer the question of why our physical appearance is important, any pursuit of refinement in it will only expose us as shallow.

My answer is confidence. Despite the popular refrain, confidence is not something that exists or is built entirely within us. It does grow and age with us from the day we are born, yes. We express pieces of ourselves, and the reactions of the people around us to those expressions reinforce our own opinions of our actions, for better or worse. We don’t develop the confidence to speak our minds if the appreciation of our thoughts and ideas does not echo back to us from those around. If everything you say is met with ridicule and scorn, or not even acknowledged at all, soon enough you don’t say anything.

Growth occurs in interaction with the environment, and we all survive this interaction to varying degrees of confidence. Some people enter adulthood with the blazing confidence of a thousand suns. Some with only a whisper of it. Most are somewhere in between, confident about different things to different degrees. You can have, for example, complete confidence in your ability to master any technical skill, yet barely any in your physical appearance, your mind feeling like a blazing sun but your body being nothing to you but dull lead.

Confidence is the proof of social currency. If your intelligence is validated by the committee of your immediate society, if the tests come back A’s and B’s, you feel intelligent. If people have been telling you since you were a child that you are beautiful, you feel beautiful. Most of the time, as children, we cannot intentionally build up this social currency. We’re not fully aware of it. We’re trading in it almost by accident. By the time you become a young adult, unless you’ve been lucky or uncommonly well-informed, you’ve had very little conscious hand in the distribution of your social currency. You’ve decided who you are, what you’re good at, based almost entirely on society’s validation of your first stumbling attempts. It’s this very important thing, confidence, that will rule our lives and influence what we choose to do, and we’ve had almost zero say in how much of it we have.

That is what it’s about. Why we want our clothes to look good on us. Why we want our skin to shine. Why we want to smell good. Why we want the things we say to pass inspection and be acknowledged. Why we want the things we do to be judged as good. It’s social proof. It’s the echo of approval that bounces back into us and builds the confidence we need to move about the world with certainty. As a child, you could only stumble your way with guidance onto it. As an adult with agency, you can seek it with purpose. And that is the path to aging with grace. You have to realize that the jury’s verdict on you as a person and your abilities is not set in stone. You’re not ugly, you just haven’t learned to present yourself in your best light and for the right reasons. You’re not dumb, you just haven’t proven your prowess to yourself and to others. So you didn’t get math on the first try, so what? You don’t only get one try. So you don’t understand economics or politics or history or art or philosophy, so what? Getting a working knowledge of those things is as easy as making a reading list, sitting in on conversations (or finding them on the web), verifying them with simple research and deciding what you think about them. And you don’t even need to be sucked into that orbit. There’s no shortage of interests. There’s gardening, and geology, and fashion and science fiction. There’s footy! Four years ago, I didn’t know 4-4-2 from 3-4-3 or what a winger actually was, and now I can couch-coach with the best of them and brag about having Rasmus Højlund in my Fantasy League team, all because Cristiano Ronaldo came back to Manchester United for a season and a half and I got invested. Expertise is expertise, and people know when they’re talking to someone who knows what they’re about.   

Grace is confidence that knows what it’s about. How do you age with grace? You do it by not just hopping around the world with the same proof of social currency you graduated high school with. That confidence turns stale, outdated. You do it by deciding what parts of yourself you think (and the people you value agree) need improving, and setting about consciously to:

  1. Gather information. It will take some time. And it will never end. You will continue to gather information, and then continue to get better at gathering more high-quality information, until you’re gathering information in the background of your life and it barely costs you effort.
  2. Engage with that information and immerse yourself in the culture around it. If you want to be a musician (and not simply an instrumentalist), it’s not enough to learn how to play an instrument, you have to join forums or interact with groups of other musicians, attend events, play with other musicians, be steeped in the culture. Otherwise, you will never understand what the music you’re playing actually is and what it means to the people who create it and those who listen to it.
  3. Decide what your goals are, and the direction in which you will apply the knowledge you have gained in the betterment of yourself. Know that these goals can change or evolve as your knowledge does.

Do this often enough and you can even become an expert at making yourself an expert. 

I know this series started with fashion and skincare advice, but by now you understand that those things, and everything you’ll decide to work on in improving yourself, revolve around gaining and building the confidence to express yourself and use your knowledge in this world, and require you to engage with your world critically. You’re an adult now, with the agency to peek behind the curtain at the machinery of what you could only wonder at as a child. 

So what is aging with grace? To me, it is being able to move about the world with informed confidence. Because grace is that casual, yet measured, well-earned confidence that knows what it’s about, and whose knowledge is plain for all to see.

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