Wanna see something hilarious? This is what I’m going to look like when I’m old, according to one EXTREMELY DODGY APP called FaceApp (more on this later).
Guys, I have many feelings about this.
- Holy shit, that looks exactly like my grandmother.
- … and also kind of like my mom?
- Christ my nose is going to get even bigger when I age, isn’t it?
The weird thing about the photo on the right, is that I don’t feel like it’s me. Not really. I feel a lot of warmth towards her, like I would for any other elderly stranger (I love hanging out with old people, they tend to share my affection for apricot jam and daytime soapies). But she’s not me.
And of course, this is why saving for your retirement is so freaking hard.
Saving money for future you can feel like giving it away to a stranger. The future is a dark valley of unknowns - I have no idea who Older Me is, what she’s into, where she lives or what she wants. So trying to plan my life around HER needs feels really hard. Especially when I have so many needs of my own already.
There’s science that backs this up. A team of researchers from Stanford once did a ran fMRI scans on people and found that the brain patterns when people describe themselves 10 years in the future are more similar to when they describe actors than when they describe their current selves.
Then they got people to put on virtual reality goggles and look at themselves in a mirror. Half of the subjects saw themselves. The other half saw an aged version of themselves. Then they were asked to allocate $1,000 among four options: buying something nice for someone special, investing in a retirement fund, planning a fun event, or putting money into a spending account.
The people who saw the aged image saved nearly twice as much for retirement.
The math on saving for retirement isn’t that hard. A basic rule of thumb is to take half your age that you start saving for retirement, and save that percentage of your income (so save 15% if you start at 30, save 25% if you start at 50). Or you can get more hardcore than that and read up about the 4% rule (your savings target is 25 x your annual expenses). Pretty much every country offers tax-efficient options for those savings. There are dozens of articles about all of this online (South Africans, here’s a good one for you).
But like so much else, the hard part about money isn’t the money part. The hard part is confronting your own emotions. The hard part is dealing with the fact that one day - if you’re lucky - you are going to be old. One day you’ll probably not be able to work any more. One day you will be a different person to the person you are now. And that person is your child, in a way, in that they are 100% dependent on you and your choices now. You are responsible for them.
You have to remind yourself of this. Because we tend to forget.
Buddhists have been onto this for centuries. In some countries, they do a practice called corpse meditation, where they sit for hours and contemplate photographs of dead bodies in various stages of composition. Sometimes, they do this with real corpses that are donated to the temples.
This might seem morbid as heck. But maybe it’s healthier than what the Western World does, which is hide away death and ageing and refuse to ever discuss it in the cultural equivalent to sticking our fingers in our ears and going LA LA LA LA I’M NEVER GOING TO DIE.
One way I try to combat this is to make sure that I have some heroes who are old, and not let the media full my mind only with aspirational 20 year old pop stars with perfect bodies. I try to have models for what being old can look like, and how rad it can be. I think about women like Patti Smith, bell smith, Margaret Atwood, Laurie Anderson - how they’re still making subversive and important work in their 60s and 70s. How they seem to give fewer and fewer fucks as they age. Or my #1 old woman idol: the late, great Eartha Kitt who was cool as hell until the day she slipped off this earth to get into something more comfortable.
You will make different choices for your life if you spend time thinking about your own Old Self. They might still feel like a different person, but at least you could become better acquainted with them. Even start to feel compassion for them.
I’m working on my dreams for Old Me. I want her to be one of those old women who wears neon muumuus all the time and does oil paintings of weirdly sexual fruits and has orange hair and fourteen cats and says rude things all the time because she gives no fucks. I want her to go on archeology tours and take psychedelics and get a pointless PhD and hike in the mountains by herself.
So, to give Old Me the chance to do those things, here are four big things I’m doing at the moment:
- Trying to build up a running habit, because she’s going to need this heart to keep pumping for several more decades, and heart disease is the way Old Me is most likely to die.
- Keep putting work into my friendships, and not letting one person be my only source of support. Relationships are what give life meaning, and you have to diversify because no-one lives forever.
- Building a career that gives my life meaning and doesn’t rely on someone else employing me, because people are dicks about employing old people.
- Saving as much freaking money for her as I can.
What do you want for Old You? And what are you going to do now, to give them a better chance at having that life? Tell me in an email - I will read it! I’ll share some of my favourite answers with the rest of you.
All my love
Younger Sam (borrowing the body that will one day belong to Old Sam).
Psst… guys, as fun as they are, be careful using apps that put cool filters on your photos. My friend, data privacy activist Murray Hunter, says this:
“FaceApp’s built up a database of about 150million people’s faces — which it’s likely using to train facial-recognition algorithms. “It’s a symptom of a much bigger problem, given the myriad ways that facial recognition is being rolled out across the world. A lot of people talk about this as the users’ fault but we need to put the blame squarely with the companies and governments and crappy laws that enable these practices.”
Murray is crowdfunding a hilarious children’s book to help you have better conversations about data privacy with toddlers (I’ve read it; it’s mega cute). Pre-order yours here.