Sample text for Living Principal : looking and feeling your best at every age / Victoria Principal.

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Counter Chapter One

Your Internal Voice?Taking Charge of Your Attitude Beyond the Dash

Early in the process of outlining this book's goals, I realized that it would be less about aging and more about living. It's about living fully as we are aging, not about putting life behind us. It's about living happily and well as we invoke our feminine strength, our womanliness, to be not only as much as we always were, but very possibly more. After all, if we live and learn as we go, we will have those wonderful perks called hindsight and wisdom to guide us. Now we can live. We also can benefit from new ways the world has to offer us to be more youthful at a mature age, allowing us to attain something I think of as youthful maturity. Not to be silly or inappropriate, not to strive to be twenty-one again (something I don't think I'd want!), but to feel and look and be our very best at every age. Let me add that, in the world we inhabit now, there are more choices than ever available for who we want to be and what life roles we want to play. We don't have to fit a cookie-cutter mold of what any particular age is supposed to look like or be.

The shoulds and the musts no longer apply. Our choices are now about what we can do to be our best selves-by our own individual standards. In the past, many of us thought that once we turned forty, life was a ticking clock, ticking into old age and death. Now, because of improvements in the care we take of our health and the advancements of science and technology, the clock isn't ticking so loudly at forty, fifty, sixty, even at seventy! The very process of aging, once considered absolutely inevitable, has begun to be seen as a treatable disorder. Some scientists have even predicted that there may come a time when the causes of death will be eliminated. Aside from the ethical and population-control issues this possibility raises, it brings into question our cultural attitudes about the "curse" of dying. My take on death happens to be different. To me, it's part of the natural order, a necessary phase of the life cycle.

Because I was raised in an Air Force family who moved frequently overseas, while growing up I was exposed to less fearful cultural attitudes toward aging and dying. Here in the United States, the time I spent on my grandmother's farm in Georgia made me a firsthand witness to the cycle of birth, life, and death, then a breath before the cycle started once more. I saw it not only in plants, fruits, and grains, but in cattle, pigs, chickens, cats, and dogs. Instead of fearing older age and death, my thought is that we should fear not living. Sadly, there are a lot of people walking around not living?that's much more frightening. Instead of feeling that our best years are behind us, wouldn't it be better to focus on what's in front of us? Those attitudes were important reminders to me when I was forty-two and found myself buying into the idea of the ticking clock. In hindsight, I know how foolish that was. At the time, however, I was listening to a worried inner voice telling me that the clock was running down and life wasn't ever going to be as much fun, and that I wasn't going to be as enthusiastic, attractive, and interesting, and that everything was going to be less. When I finally examined my fears, I saw that I had a few options. I could respond by retreating into denial, pretending that this age thing was just a bad dream. I could give in to fear and prepare for a lesser life. Or I could put my emphasis not on the fact that I was dying but on the fact that I was living: the quality of my life. I chose to emphasize what some people call "the dash," the mark on tombstones between the dates of birth and death. Contained within that little mark is an entire lifetime.

Until science cures mortality, we all know with certainty that we are going to die. That is the one promise made to each of us the moment we're born. What we don't know is when. So none of us can ultimately determine how long our dash is going to be; what we can shape is its quality, the quality of our life. That, I believe, starts with attitude. Once I shifted my focus to life's journey, rather than its ultimate destination, what had been a terrible depression became an astounding revelation. Out of that downward spiral came a turning point at forty-two-my life became more than before, not less or worse, but fuller and more joyful than it had ever been. It helped me see what's important to me about my life-that I make it count for something and not waste its precious opportunities; that I have the courage to face my fears; that I have generosity of spirit not only for others but for myself; and that I keep my mind open to the possibilities that each year brings. Living that way hasn't always been easy. Sometimes in a desire to move ahead at full throttle, I forget the adage about stopping to smell the roses. In fact, I had to consciously train myself to do just that-the daily practice I call Ten Minutes of Joy, which we'll explore later on. For me, the art of living in the moment is one of the most powerful ways to rejuvenate yourself?in practically no time and without spending a penny. Living Principal means that you can create the life you want and the self you want. At this writing, all of us will eventually go, gentle or raging, into that good night; but now we have the option of going more slowly, at a later date. Instead of denying or fearing the process of aging, my choice is to embrace it, to try to do it both gracefully and intelligently. "Grace" is such a beautiful word, one that for the most part has been lost from our vocabulary. I love reading books like Jane Austen's, about eras when grace was considered a vital quality. Grace really is admirable, defined not only by what we see on the outside but by what we sense from the inside. It's a manner in which one carries oneself?externally and internally.

As we age, we have the option to carry ourselves inside and outside in such a way that we do it with grace. Wouldn't most of us rather see someone age with grace than with fear? Few of us are attracted to the face of fear-the person who is desperately trying to make herself into her twenty-year-old incarnation. We may empathize with it, we may sympathize with it, but it's not attractive. It's not enticing. It's not something you're drawn to. Grace is attractive. It's universally admirable. It is appealing to all of us. Think of famous older women who are beautiful in their totality: That is grace. Women like Katharine Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Tina Turner, Helen Mirren, Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen, Diane Sawyer. Those women have inspired me, as have women like Shirley Temple Black and Vanessa Redgrave, whose accomplishments beyond professional work have enhanced their beauty as they have aged. Now a new generation of public women?like Oprah Winfrey, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Katie Couric?has come along to exemplify grace and intelligence as they pass from one life stage to the next. When I say aging with intelligence, what I mean is moving through the years not thoughtlessly but with foresight and care, using the knowledge we have and resources that we may seek out. I hope that's what Living Principal will offer you?an intelligent resource as you determine who you want to be and how you want to live.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Women Health and hygiene, Beauty, Personal, Exercise for women, Longevity, Principal, Victoria