Aging is in our minds more than in our bodies

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Women over 50 are going to team up in equitable terms with visionary men and mature millennials and help to drastically reshape our future

Anastasia Sideri, external communication director Central and Eastern Europe The Coca-Cola Company

On the occasion of her 57th birthday, Anastasia Sideri published a post on LinkedIn, citing an interview with Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at MIT, who declared that older women will rule the world. While Coughlin explained the reasons why this is going to happen, he - in my opinion - underestimated the most fundamental trait of the powerful over 50: their overwhelming generosity. The most underrated attribute in history is the common denominator of the women I have talked with so far. 

Deeply inside themselves, they know that the challenges we are facing are not about “me,” but “us.” An “us” that has its roots in the mists of time and - like a tree - stretches its branches into a future we’re building for our present and the generations to come. That’s why their generosity is such a powerful catalyst for change

Anastasia, who’s the external communication director Central and Eastern Europe The Coca-Cola Company and chair of the Women in Business Committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in Greece, demonstrates this assumption. Despite being an evidently busy woman, not only did she take up my invitation for an interview instantly, but she sent some heartfelt answers in return.  

How did you realize that the way we’re culturally conditioned to think about aging does not correspond to reality? 

This realization was shaped gradually after my 40s, but it came to a peak two years ago, when I celebrated my 55th birthday. Some people asked me how it felt, insinuating growing old, as I was reaching 60. I somehow felt 55 years young - not old - and I also felt somehow offended. 

I had been through a lot, but was full of energy like never before. So it became obvious to me that despite common belief and prejudice, age is just a number and aging is in our minds more than in our bodies. I decided to be an active supporter of older women. Namely to empower them to make their dreams come true in their career and life, no matter the age. 

What has changed in your perception and how do you approach aging now?

I realized that aging is just a phase in human life. I realized that our spirit never ages and if you take care of your body and health and do not fall into the trap of feeling old and vulnerable, you can actually feel strong and capable of anything. 

For example, I am preparing as of the beginning of this year, to run a marathon before I turn 60. And I am an eternal scholar, always learning new skills with the enthusiasm of a teenager. I am taking online courses from Spanish to digital marketing, from storytelling to entrepreneurship and internal decoration. I am also trying new hobbies and sports like stand-up paddling. It is fun, invigorating and self-fulfilling.

We are taught to think about aging as something that has to do with diminishing, what unexpected resources are you instead discovering within yourself?

People indeed think of older age as vulnerability and dependence, but on the contrary I experience unexpected rigor, vitality and independence. These qualities, paired with the accumulated experience and wisdom that comes with time, give me a sense of joy and completeness and a can-do-anything attitude. 

On the other hand, how has a more realistic approach to aging impacted on the way you do your job? The way you lead and plan your life?

Nothing has changed substantially today in the way I do my job. I just have a lot more time and less guilt now that my kids are not dependent on me and I feel more confident and assertive. So I still travel extensively, work long hours when needed and feel I have acquired the agility required in our times. 

On a personal level, I take better care of my wellbeing. I eat less, exercise more, sleep well and practice mindfulness whenever I can. I also read a lot - almost everyday - and try to spend quality time with my husband and friends, many of whom are much younger than I am. 

One thing that has changed is that I have become less urban. Though I still live in a big city and take advantage of its lifestyle, I also enjoy spending time at the seaside or in the countryside. Nature is my mental and spiritual “botox,” I think.

What empowering thoughts about aging do you feel like sharing?

We should remind us all that age discrimination is a stupid prejudice undermining our future selves. Here are my top three thoughts. First: age is just a number. You are as old as you decide to be. Second: You do not get old, you just mature. Third: Your spirit never ages, it just lets your body align with it.

What are the biggest stereotypes about aging that, in your perspective, women should debunk?

You are too old to have big dreams: fall in love, get promoted, change career, do some type of edgy activity or sports. I believe we women, no matter what age, can do anything we set ourselves to. It takes only confidence and menopause is just a phase that does not impede us from pursuing anything other than motherhood. 

What advice would you give to other women to question the conventional idea of aging in their lives?

There is an increasing sense of separation and discrimination in our world. For sure sexism still holds strong, but ageism is on the rise, too. So women suffer a double discrimination when they get old. This triggers unnecessary frictions between us and the younger generation, including our own kids. 

We should not allow anyone to drag us into the trap of seeing aging as something to be afraid or ashamed of. No need to hide our age so as to be accepted. We should age with dignity and pride and show the world with our actions that we can be a fundamental catalyst of sustainable growth - not just economic growth - in our businesses and societies.

You recently posted an acclaimed message on LinkedIn about turning 57: can you briefly tell us the differences and similarities you noticed between your 40s and 50s?

My 40s were a lot tougher than my 50s. I had a broken marriage, two young kids with health issues, my dad with early signs of dementia and had just started a new job with Coke when I turned 40. I felt tired, sad and terribly lonely. I felt getting irreversibly old and vulnerable, but I was optimistic and determined to fix things, be happy and strong again.  

I worked hard on that and when Ι entered my 50s, my life was in order again. My dad was gone, but I experienced even his loss in a positive way. I decided to get remarried with my partner who stood by me during these tough years and we held a big barefoot party on the beach in honor of my dad. I felt liberated and energized again. 

Today my career and personal life are at their best and I am anticipating my 60s as a milestone to start something excitingly new, a new purpose. In a nutshell, every year after 50 felt better than the previous. The common denominator was my optimism and certainty that everything will be ok, no matter the circumstances or the age. As I wrote in my post, I am not getting old. I’m just maturing. 

In your job, you are an expert in communication and in contact with numerous countries and realities. What suggestions would you give for women to make their voices heard and challenge the stereotypes when it comes to aging, diversity and inclusion?

First of all, be confident and proud of who you are. Fill any gaps that are important to reach your goals. Find a good mentor and dare to chase any dream. Raise your voice against any norm that expects women to be gentle and soft and obedient. 

Join forces with other women and hold each other’s back. Together and united we can find our voice and make it heard, not against men or the younger, but in favor of an inclusive society for all. 

Finally, with reference to the MIT research that claims that women over 50 are the big game-changers, what change do you feel your generation is ready to bring about?

I am confident that women over 50 are going to team up in equitable terms with visionary men and mature millennials and help to drastically reshape our future.

Professional women who have learnt a lot as they survived and thrived through the hardships of motherhood and care-taking of their seniors; women who have withstood prejudice of any kind and fought their way up in a men’s hierarchical world with grace, kindness and resilience; women who have learned to trust their intuition and have engaged their teams with inspiration, empathy and trust. 

These women should not be regarded as a burden, cost, or waste just because they are over 50. They can offer the fruits of their hard-acquired wisdom to the world. They can be catalysts for a good, noble, abundant and humanized future where all people are valued and respected despite their race, sex, condition or age. They can do it and they will.