You can march through life with a relatively high degree of confidence. You might gain self-worth from your job, kids and friends.
But as you age, your confidence level gets tested. You retire and lose your professional identity. Bodily changes might make you question your attractiveness. People close to you die and you’re adrift.
Even if you once basked in supreme self-assurance, there’s no guarantee you will continue to feel that way. Health setbacks can limit your daily experience and further erode your self-esteem.
Researchers have found that one’s confidence peaks in middle age. Professionals in their 40s and 50s are likely to reach the apex of their career and the prestige that comes with it.
If they don’t achieve job-related success, they may feel confident based on their fulfilling social life or other achievements like raising happy, healthy children.
But confidence tends to ebb after age 60. It’s hard to maintain self-worth if you’re lonelier, less active and more anxious about the years ahead.
Rather than let the effects of aging shake your confidence, fight back. Adopt a can-do attitude to sweep away self-doubt and embrace new experiences.
Carol Marak, 71, hired a life coach about eight years ago. A self-described introvert, she’s single, lives alone and has no adult children to rely on. She wanted to take charge of her life and expand her social circle.
Her coach gave her a simple assignment: Strike up conversations with people.
“She urged me to get out of the house and meet strangers,” said Marak, author of “Solo and Smart.” “I started by looking the grocery-store clerk in the eye and saying, ‘Hi, how are you?’”
From there, she slowly became more comfortable approaching others with the same friendly icebreaker. As a result, she found herself conversing with a diverse mix of people on a daily basis.
“It builds on itself,” Marak said. “It gave me more confidence.”
But the Dallas-based Marak didn’t stop there. She prioritizes staying fit and watching her diet. She stays current with technology. She loves to learn new skills. And she’s a speaker who shares tips on solo aging.
“Some older people watch TV all day,” she said. “They feel timid, isolated and scared. They lack confidence because there’s no validation. They don’t feel cared about.”
On the plus side, retirees may figure they have little to lose by sampling something new. Such openness can expand their horizons.
“They may jump in and try it and think, ‘If I fail, so what?’ I’ll move onto the next thing,” said Melissa Davey, 72, a documentary filmmaker in Valley Forge, Pa.
Davey speaks from experience. As a 65-year-old corporate executive, she recalls thinking, “I don’t want to retire. But do I really want to stay here? What else can I do?”
So she decided to make documentaries.
“I knew I could figure out what I didn’t know,” she said. “As you get older, you know what you’re able to do and what you’re capable of. You can look back on times you failed and what you learned from that failure. So it becomes less scary to try new things. Fear and confidence tend to bump into one another.”
A few years ago, she released “Beyond Sixty,” a feature-length documentary about women over 60 showcasing their stories. She’s currently working on another film.
Like Marak, Davey says a key to gaining confidence is altering your daily routine and embracing the new.
“Volunteering just one day a month at a homeless shelter can be a huge confidence booster,” Davey said.
Overcome mental roadblocks that threaten to keep you stuck in place. For Davey, that means waving aside doubts such as, I’m not trained to do that, I’ve never done that before or My family will think I’m crazy.
True confidence comes from rising above such self-imposed worries. What begins as a minor, low-stakes action—auditing a class, initiating small talk in the supermarket—creates momentum that fuels more self-esteem.
“There’s this messaging, especially with women, about how much of your insecurity is connected to what other people think or say,” Davey said. “I can’t tell you how many people said to me [about filmmaking], ‘You can’t do that. You’re too old. You’re not trained.’ But there’s a curiosity that seems to emerge as you get older, a knowledge that you only have so many years left.”