“Growing Down”: Moving from MORE to LESS

Remember when you were, oh, say, six years old? And then, just a few months after your birthday, you were already counting, “I’m six and a half. In just three months I’ll be six and three-quarters. I’m growing up!”

Growing up. That was always the goal. To be double digits, to be sweet sixteen, to be twenty-one — Sometime shortly after twenty-five, numbers drop out and growing up is measured instead by status and possessions and activities. In homes and cars and jewelry and stocks, in moving higher up the corporate ladder, taking more and longer and farther vacations. Whatever the measure, growing up means having, and doing, MORE and MORE and MORE.

Same holds true even in working out at the gym. I came late to free weights. I was 60 when I began my first workouts with my first trainer. Much to my amazement, it was exhilarating. The sense of strength in my own body, the pleasure and power of discipline and control, of measurable effort and measurable results. The more effort, the more rewards. From two to five to eight-pound weights, then to ten and sometimes twenty.

Free Weights


The formula always held: more repetitions, more weight. The more you work out, the more you progress. “You’re the strongest 65 year old in this gym,” said my trainer one day. Wow, did that feel good! I swelled (modestly, internally) with pride. And figured it would go on forever.

Then we moved, and the new gym was okay, but I didn’t find a trainer I really was inspired by, and the winters were harder so I skipped more sessions, and I got older. Mostly, I got older. Rounding 70, I wasn’t moving forward very much, but I was certainly holding my own. And I was sure that the slippage was my own fault. I wasn’t doing enough. If I did more, I’d be gaining more, right? Because growing is always up, isn’t it?

And then we moved again, and I was 75. I had a small heart attack. The miracle of modern science fixed me up right away with a stent, and I didn’t even pause for very long. I was right into cardio-rehab, on the treadmill and lifting weights again. These are only two and three-pounders, I thought. Baby weights. I can do more than that. And I could. Before I finished rehab, I was back doing five-pound weights. But, cautioned the instructor, that’s probably it. Do more reps if you want, but don’t push the weight.

Free Weights, in the Gym

Along about now you’re probably waiting for the punch line, for the triumph, for the ten-pound weights again. Moving forward. Guess what? That’s not the way it goes down, guys.

(A digression.) One of my favorite books in the world is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. Brave, serious, adventurous Alice has always been my heroine and role model. At one point in Looking Glass country, the Red Queen grabs little Alice by the hand and yanks her along, running full tilt, crying “Faster! Faster!” When they stop, though, Alice sees that they are in the same place they began. She exclaims, “Everything’s just as it was!”

Alice and the Red Queen


“Of course it is,” said the Queen. “What would you have it?”

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

That’s where I am now, friends. I am now 80, and I dwell in the country of Old, where it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. Here we have stopped growing UP and have begun to grow DOWN. “I’m not getting older,” I joke, “I’m getting shorter.” And I am. “Five foot two, eyes of blue” has become five foot one, and the blue is faded. If we live long enough, we all grow shorter. We all begin growing DOWN. I do my exercises with five-pound weights, and I’m happy to do so. Not only will I not be increasing to eight pounds again — I will feel lucky if when I am 81 or 82 I’m still able to hoist those five-pounders. It takes a whole lot of effort to stay in the same place. Red Queen, you were right!

But what I really want to tell you is, It’s okay. It’s all okay. Friends used to have that as a kind of mantra, It’s all good, they’d say. Pooh, said I to myself. But now that I’m here, whaddya know? It is okay, it’s all good.

Growing DOWN instead of up means, at least to me, simplification. Letting Go. Uncluttering. I don’t need so much, I don’t want so much. I don’t bother with useless frills like “he hurt my feelings” or “what do you suppose they think of the way I look.” Most things don’t MATTER the way they used to. I’m alive this morning, and I take a deep breath, and am grateful to do so. Liberation! That’s what I’m talking about. Not of the body — because that’s all too likely to be experiencing, what shall I call it? Slippage? But liberation of the spirit. Free to be me, as a reality. Hey, that’s not bad.

Which is why, my young friends, who are busy doing more and more exciting things, looking forward, striving, achieving — this post isn’t for you in the here and now. It’s really for you to keep as a talisman, kind of. One day, far in the future, when you arrive in this country, maybe you’ll remember and say Aha! So that’s what she was talking about so long ago, and you’ll be reassured that yes, it is okay, yes, it’s all good.

For you, my midlife friends, the same message, only the reassurance may come in handy sooner.

In an odd kind of way (and I’m only discovering this now, right in this moment), growing DOWN instead of UP is simply a different perspective. It’s disconcerting like all new learning, but it’s interesting. It’s an adventure. In the end, what keeps life worth living is the adventure. Here we go, through the Looking Glass to Wonderland.

This entry was posted in Challenge, Etcetera, Freedom, Health, Personal Essay, Wisdom and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to “Growing Down”: Moving from MORE to LESS

  1. Richard says:

    First, I must tell you that you are not alone. The word creaky was not an important one in my vocabulary until now. On the other hand, I’m still skiing. A little slower. I walk several miles a week, but less than the number of miles I used to run. Still, I get up each morning eager to greet the day. So do you, I think. Isn’t that what’s matters?


    • Touch2Touch says:

      The little slower, little less is what I mean by growing down instead of up. But it’s still growing! Maybe even in intensity, as it’s valued more. Very Japanese.
      Would love to see you if your travels bring you this way — maybe even Joan too?


  2. Pauline says:

    I love your it’s-all-good attitude. Even at my youthful 68, I feel the tug of letting go, of slowing down, and of things as they are being okay, being good. I can still lift 25 pounds (in the form of a toddler granddaughter) and climb the stairs five and six times a day, but my internal mechanisms are beginning to protest – hips, knees, thumb joints – they all tell me to enjoy these weighty days because soon I’ll be forced to slow down, ease up. And that will be okay, too.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Pauline, you remind me vividly of a time when I was using an indoor small trampoline regularly. Really enjoying it, too, bouncing up and down. And suddenly between bounces I thought to myself, I’m not going to be able to do this forever. I better really enjoy it right now! So I did. Luckily!


  3. Lucid Gypsy says:

    I see one of your tags is freedom – perfect! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, you’re the coolest, most fun 80 year young I know of, keep doing whatever you want to 🙂


  4. Prunella Fiddian-Green says:

    Lovely one – this speaks to me just where I am right now – all the more since having a carpet moth invasion and of necessity paring down – and liking it, a lot. I began this simplicity thing and letting go when I moved here – and now at 68 I am repeating it, both times of necessity. Im liking it more and more – especially the freedom it brings me. Freedom is ever my first love in every form. It’s why I came to the USA after all Many thanks and love Pru


  5. Lovely post. We are transitioning our lives also. We took our first fully guided vacation. We are changing and slowing and growing down. Life is still wonderful and filled with challenges, promises and delight.


  6. A very interesting post, full of wisdom. I do think that with respect to many things I need less; I find more and more pleasure in the small things – sharing breakfast with my love ones – or just listening to the birds sing. Body wise I am not ready to step down, yet, though, but I think you are right, at some point it will be the right thing to do – right as in feeling good. Thanks for the encouraging words.


  7. Thanks for this very insightful post. Growing down – who would have thought it was something to look forward to? And yet, there is less stress, more enjoyment, less frustration, more laughter. Now, if only those in their stress-out years could read this and understand that the road up ~ eventually goes back down.

    With gratitude — Margekatherine


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Lovely to see you again, Marge Katherine!
      Glad you enjoyed the post — I certainly enjoyed writing it. (Thought about it for a long time on the treadmill, going in, but I left that part out!)


  8. although 60 is creeping up on me, not 80, we have got to be soul sisters. Didn’t I just post about “and it’s okay” today for my birthday! It’s okay, it’s all okay. I woke up this morning, I am loved, the sun is shining. Everything else is just gravy on the way down!


  9. Bunny Shulman says:

    My goodness, Judy, you’ve hit the nail on the head! It’s not “the best is yet to come,” it’s enjoy what is for what it is and wrap your arms around each day.


  10. swalebird says:

    I think I like the comments almost as well as the post itself. As a neighbor said the other day, not brand new, “less is or can be more”. I fit there. I may be dealing with less than more, but it’s not upper most. What drives me is being able to assist 50+ individuals who have NOT given up looking for a job, willing to work hard, accepting of new “not my style” ideas on how to market oneself, and being more relentless than the vicious competition.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Steve, you certainly point your finger to this blog’s beating heart, so far as I’m concerned: the brief but pointed conversations with readers that follow the posts. Occasionally there are even conversations among readers — the best!
      Doesn’t surprise me that you’re still out there looking to work with people on the newest and latest, that you’re tech savvy and have a real clear eye for what’s going on. Your eye was always a keen one, even back in high school!


  11. Johna Till Johnson says:

    Judy, thanks for not only posting this but forwarding to me!

    It reminds me of a conversation I had with my (then) 86-year-old great aunt.
    Her: “I always used to be afraid of loss. Every year that went by, I’d lose something. But each year, I found I’d gain more than I lost.”
    Me: “Lost? Like what?”
    Her (thoughtfully): “Well, for instance, I can’t hop any more.” (Executes a perfectly respectable hop on one foot). I point this out. My mother reminds me in a stage whisper that my great-aunt used to be a competitive diver.
    Me: “At what point did you find it stopped? The getting-more-than-you lose thing?”
    Her: (even more thoughtfully): “Well, it hasn’t happened yet….”

    Thank you for reminding us that gaining something doesn’t always mean growing “up”… it can also mean growing “down”….


    • Touch2Touch says:

      I am so happy for your response, Johna. Not only did you recollect, happily, your great-aunt — but I got to meet her too!
      She sounds like she is/was a woman on the right track, heading in the right direction. (Up or down, both right directions, very Zen.)
      For some reason, your remembered dialogue makes me think of the line from Star Trek?/Wars?: Live long and prosper!
      She did. May you do likewise.


  12. Madhu says:

    What an inspiring post Judith. And comforting in a way! I hope I will get to 80 with as much grace and wisdom. Belated, but warm birthday wishes. Here’s to growing down 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Down, up, both perfectly good directions, eh?
      I was looking for some lines from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets that I remembered as appropriate. Turned out they weren’t — but I came across two others that were:
      Old men ought to be explorers
      Here or there does not matter.

      Old women too — when we have time and leisure to do so — like in blogging —


  13. Thank you for a very comforting post, Judith! I can see sixty from where I am standing, but have recently started doing weights and walking stairs. You inspire me to keep working at it–I think we all need to hear that it’s never too late. My sister remodeling her art studio when she was fiftysomething–that meant months of hard labor, as she was tearing it down and hauling it way herself. The next time she went to the doctor, she was told she had grown an inch taller. My sister said she was sure there was a mistake, but she really had grown an inch. The doctor said that all that hard labor had built up the muscle in between her vertebrae!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Your sister may be on to some great medical discovery, Naomi!
      Just plain working out certainly doesn’t add inches (although stick with the weights and the stair-climbing, they have many other rewards). Maybe you have to be working to a purpose? Reaching for the stars? (Artists do that.)
      Anyway, I’m really glad you take comfort from the post, because that was my intention.
      P.S. When I was looking at sixty, I decided to seize the bull right by the horns. I threw a big bash for about 60 family members and friends, called it “You Light Up My Life,” and paid tribute to each of them by name at the party. It was great fun for all, and an enormous boost to my spirits. I’ve never looked back!


  14. 2e0mca says:

    You keep going with what you feel is right Judith 🙂 I’m having a few tweaks and twinges because I’m being a bit silly in trying sports that I was never made for (Tennis) but it always helps build up fitness for those more sensible things like walking 😉 The biggest issue for me and you, I believe are similarly afflicted, is… The coach issues a challenge and you won’t let it go… Giving in is not an option 😉 Actually – my left foot is currently killing me as I seem to have trapped a nerve during a tennis session last week and was stupid enough to grit my teeth and give it another go last night after a day tramping around a bird reserve! – Am I a fool or what… And do you hear something of yourself there? You’re an inspiration Judith – hope I can write the same experiences about weights and fitness when I’m 80!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      You remind me of a time in my life maybe 15 years ago.
      If walking is good for you, then hard walking is even better, right? I proceeded to walk so hard so many days around the gym, I walked myself right into a heel spur that took months to get better. I don’t do that any more.
      Something that can be bad for your health is — gritting your teeth! Better leave it to bulldogs.
      Please don’t wait till you’re 80 till you start being good to yourself, Martin. As always, thanks so much for invigorating the discussion. It’s great to hear from you.


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