This last weekend, my brothers and sister and I were all together in the same place for the first time in eight years. There’s no story of estrangement or dislike; the culprits are geography and conflicting commitments. We spend time with each other in subsets, and we all email and talk by phone. But this summer we finally got our schedules to align, and decided to convene in upstate New York.
So, at long last, there we were on a warm Thursday night at my younger brother and his wife’s wonderfully cozy and bohemian country house: my brothers and their spouses, my sister, my husband and I. Chatting, laughing, eating killer guacamole and drinking martinis and/or my husband’s excellent craft beer before dinner.
And I thought: siblings are the only people who know you for your whole life. Your children don’t come into your life till you’re an adult, and – childhood sweethearts aside – neither does your spouse (or spouses). Your parents, sadly, leave your life partway through. Most friends come and go. But siblings are with you from your earliest days. They’re there as you go through all your growing pains and come into full adulthood. They empathize with your difficulties and celebrate your triumphs and joys. And, generally, they’re with you pretty much until you shuffle off this mortal coil.
I’ve always felt fortunate to like and respect each of my siblings. And yet in earlier years I noticed the dark side of this life-long knowing: we used to limit each other, in our expectations and interactions, to the roles we played in the family growing up. Caretaker, optimist, black sheep, iconoclast.
Now, though, all of that has softened and thinned out – and this weekend really demonstrated that to me. We’ve been through a lot; we’ve seen each other at our best and our worst; we’ve grown and changed. As I saw and talked with my family this weekend, it seemed we’ve come to a place of almost pure appreciation. Certainly we rub each other the wrong way at times, and we don’t agree on everything (although there is remarkable consonance on core values) – but that’s superficial. At the heart of what I felt this weekend, from each of us and for all of us, was gratitude.
We’re happy to love each other. We’re proud of each other. We appreciate very much that we’re all still alive, and happy. We embrace each other’s spouses and children and – now – grandchildren. We’re each interested in sharing and finding out how the others are navigating the questions of aging: where to live, how to be active, what to do about work, how to stay as healthy and vital as possible. And most of all we enjoy each others’ company.
We had fun saying “Remember when we…” and knowing that we four are the only people on earth who could now finish that sentence and a thousand others like it. We shared little tidbits from our parents’ and grandparents’ lives that one of us knew and the others picked up eagerly, bright gems of family lore to store away. We lamented the fact that we hadn’t asked our parents some important questions – and wondered how to pass along to our children and their children the rich history of our family. Being with people who have known and cared about you your whole life is an experience unlike any other.
And now, in this final third of our lives, most of what used to make that deep knowing irritating or awkward seems to have faded away; we’re simply glad to be here with each other. I love you guys; I know you love me, too.
You’ve probably seen some version of this infographic about adoption rates of new technology over the past 150 years:
by g kofi anan
I see this as just one indicator of the ramping up of the overall pace of change in our lives. Imagine living at the end of the 19th century and deciding whether to have a telephone in your house, or electric lighting. You could debate and think and argue about it for years without feeling like anything was passing you by or that there was any real pressure to make a decision. And meanwhile, the rest of your life would be flowing on, pretty much status quo. That was how we humans lived for thousands of years. And though I’m sure the 1890s felt very modern and fast to the people living through them (Traveling by train from New York to LA in less than 4 days! Women demonstrating for the right to vote!), most everyone spent their whole lives doing the same work, being a part of the same family, living in the same place, eating the same food, using the same tools and ways of doing things, having the same friends.
Now, all these core life elements can and do change regularly for most of us. And the decision about whether to adopt a new technology is made in a moment….and then again the next moment. My conclusion? We need to get better at changing in order to thrive in the 21st century.
I’ve come to believe that fear of and unwillingness or inability to change are the biggest risks we face today. For instance, it’s at the heart of the political and cultural divide we’re living through in the US. Those who want to “make America great again” long to return to a time that makes sense to them, where white men made most of the key decisions and held most of the power; where industrial jobs were plentiful and stable and paid a wage that could support a whole family; where captions of business could do what they wanted and workers had to go along; where America was the most powerful nation in the world and called most of the shots; where science didn’t offer new and confusing and confronting realities on a daily basis; where women and people of color and non-christians and lesbians and gays didn’t speak up and didn’t have to be included in the conversation or the halls of power.
Sorry folks: it’s simply not going to happen. Once the genie of change has been let out of the bottle, nothing – not legislation or shouting, not violence or willful ignorance – is going to stuff it back in. And the present administrations’ attempts to drag us back to that earlier, less change-filled era are going to fail miserably.
What I’d suggest instead is that we get good at changing. That we manage our fear and resistance and learn to view radical, continuous change as an inevitable part of modern life. That we rely on those things that truly are universal and timeless – love, humility, courage, curiosity, joy. That we get good at learning quickly, adapting easily, and creating new habits and new ways of thinking. And that we learn to assess any new idea or thing as objectively as possible, so that we can respond in a way that supports the greatest good to the greatest number of people in this ever-changing world.
There’s no way back: we can only find the best way forward.
As my husband and I were driving to our local #marchforourlives rally last Saturday, we were talking about the Parkland Florida survivors, and how their passion, courage, clarity and grit have been giving us hope for the future. Then we started wondering about the name of their school. Who was Marjory Stoneman Douglas? Why is their school named after her? And why do they so often refer to it by its full name, rather than the much easier MSD acronym?
As it turns out, Marjory Stoneman Douglas would probably be right there on the front lines with these kids if she were still alive. She spent her whole life fighting for causes in which she believed passionately, often in the face of extreme pressure and open ridicule.
She was born in 1890, and graduated with honors from Wellesley college in 1912, when less than 1% of American women had a college education. She then became a reporter for the Miami Herald, which was owned by her father. Initially hired as a society reporter assigned to report on parties, engagements and weddings, she was soon given responsibility for the editorial page and, a few years later, was made assistant editor of the paper. She began writing about the social and political issues that would become her focus throughout her life: women’s suffrage, civil rights, and – her abiding passion – the saving of the Everglades.
In the early 1920s, Stoneman Douglas left the Herald to become a freelance writer (her career for the remainder of her long life), and at the same time became interested in the Florida Everglades and saving this critical natural resource from over-development. In 1947, her book The Everglades: River of Grass, became a bestseller and catalyzed the protection of this area, which has since become a a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.
Stoneman Douglas lived to be 108 and fought for the causes she cared about – saving the Everglades, assuring the rights of women, people of color and the poor – until shortly before her death. In 1993, at the age of 103, she received the Congressional Medal of Freedom for her lifetime work. Though physically tiny (she was just over five feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds), she was tireless, brilliant and articulate; a fellow reporter said of her “She had a tongue like a switchblade and the moral authority to embarrass bureaucrats and politicians and make things happen.”
That description reminds me of Emma Gonzalez and Naomi Wadler.
As my husband and I joined more than 7,000 of our neighbors and friends on the Walkway Over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie in the #marchforourlives, I was thrilled to see how many of my fellow marchers were kids and teenagers. I honor Emma, her fellow students, and all the other young people from around the world who have been galvanized to take action on the issue of gun violence. They are continuing to blaze Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ trail in speaking out and acting to counter the forces of greed and selfishness in our country. I’m grateful to her and to this new generation of activists, for not only believing the world can be a better place, but for doing something to make it so.
Nelson Mandela is a hero to me. He embodied core qualities of a beautifully, fully-lived life: courage, hope, compassion, and clarity. And I’ve often thought that the essence of his power as a human being lay in his ability to be totally present: to take each day, each moment, as something new to be experienced, to be fully understood and turned to best advantage. In other words, Mandela was a great learner. Then, recently, I read a quote of his:
“I never lose. I win or learn.”
– Nelson Mandela
Such simple, universal advice. Let yourself reflect on this for a moment. Think about the last time you “lost.” That you didn’t win something professional you really wanted, like a promotion or a new job. Or something personal – a sports competition or someone’s agreement or support.
To be able to learn rather than lose in these situations is real learning, learning that can change your life. Too often, when we talk about learning, we mean something pale and insubstantial: “I read lots of articles,” “I took a class that was interesting.” But real learning is muscular and vital – it comes right up to your inability, your mistake, or your failure and looks it in the face and says: What did I not know here? Why didn’t that work? How do I need to change? Real learning is courageous and hopeful. Real learning requires being compassionate toward yourself and clear about both your strengths and weaknesses.
When we lose something we really want, at work or at play, our immediate tendency is to look away – to avoid really seeing our “defeat,” because we think it will be too demoralizing or embarrassing. I learned this 40 years ago from Tim Gallwey of Inner Game fame: when most people hit a bad shot in tennis, they don’t stay focused on what actually happened, so they can correct it next time. They literally look away, and either start making mental excuses for themselves (“my racket needs restringing,” “the sun was in my eyes”) or mentally beating themselves up (“I’m an idiot to have missed that shot,” “I’ll never be any good”).
This is losing vs. learning.
So. Next time something doesn’t go well for you: a client declines your proposal; your best friend thinks your new idea is crazy; you don’t get that job you really wanted…
Instead of looking away and losing, be courageous and clear. Look at the situation, look at yourself. Ask, What could I have done differently? or What can I learn to do differently going forward? And be compassionate and hopeful, too – don’t berate yourself, don’t predict permanent failure. Really try to understand what you can take away from this situation that will help you succeed the next time a similar situation arises. And then figure out how to make those changes in your behavior or your mindset, or both.
The power of poetry is to use regular words to capture something rare. My son has always been a poet in that way, even as a little kid. Once, when he was about five and we we were driving past a neighborhood of brand new, cheaply-built, all-the-same-except-for-color houses, thrown up quickly to respond to the ’90s Colorado housing boom, he said, “Those houses are so empty it makes me want to cry.”
He’s still doing it: framing insight as poetry. Just the other day, he told me that he, his wife, and a friend are thinking about going into business together. And one of the reasons he thinks it will work well is because “they believe in each other’s magic.”
It resonated so deeply for me. I knew exactly what he meant, because my business partner Jeff and I also believe in each others’ magic, as do my husband Patrick and I. In fact, in all my best personal and professional relationships, there’s an element of believing in each other’s magic.
To believe in someone else’s magic is to know that things that person wants do are possible, even if you don’t understand them and couldn’t do them yourself – and that the person will accomplish those things, even if you don’t understand how that will happen.
A small example: a couple of years ago, my husband said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a built-in TV on the screen porch? It wouldn’t get in the way of the view.” I said yes, with complete faith that he would make that happen, even though I didn’t have the faintest idea how such a thing could be done. And – voilá – now we have a flat-screen TV that hangs down from the ceiling of the screen porch, at exactly the right height for viewing, but without compromising in the least our beautiful Hudson River views. I still don’t really understand how he did it.
This has also happened countless times with me and my business partner Jeff. Twelve years ago, I said to him “I’m going to get this book published,” and he completely believed me, even though I had never done it before and the odds were long. Two years ago, he said “We should create a partnership with this start-up virtual reality company,” and I completely believed him, even though I didn’t really understand why that was a good idea, or how we would do it. Both things happened, and turned out to be truly beneficial for our business.
Believing in someone’s magic isn’t blind faith. It’s faith based on practical experience: you observe the other person has skills, experience and insight that you lack, and can apply those assets in ways that seem mysterious to you because you don’t share them. And so when he or she says “I can do this” or “We should do this,” you take that leap of faith, based on what you know and have experienced of that person.
I love this idea so much, because it captures one of the most powerful elements of good leadership, good partnership, and real innovation: believing that others can and will do things that you yourself are not capable of doing – and, sometimes, that are beyond your understanding. Believing in others’ magic allows us to combine our individual powers to reach new heights, to do things that none of us could have done by ourselves. It’s why diversity – of all kinds – is so critical to success. Through working with others who are not like us and believing in their magic, we can leapfrog our own limitations to solve our most intractable problems together.
It requires real humility, though. The essence of believing in someone else’s magic is being willing to acknowledge that you don’t know it all; that other people understand things that you don’t – and perhaps never will. For lots of us, that’s especially difficult when the other person is younger, less educated, a different gender, race, or religion than we are. Believing in the magic of someone we see – consciously or unconsciously – as being “less” than we are is both particularly challenging and particularly valuable. When you truly believe in someone’s magic, it’s virtually impossible to hold on to dismissive prejudices about that person.
Next time someone in your personal or professional life suggests a way to move forward or solve a problem that you don’t understand, or can’t quite see: before you say no, take a moment. Ask yourself, “Do we believe in each others’ magic?”
I’m shocked to be having to say this in the United States in 2017. But sadly, this statement now seems to be in question, most disturbingly from the White House.
Racism is evil. And just to be completely clear, I use the word evil as it’s defined in Merriam-Webster: “profoundly immoral and malevolent.” Hating people, inciting violence toward people, committing violence against people because of the color of their skin, because of their religion, because of their place of origin, is completely evil and unjustifiable. It has no place in the America I believe we can be. No place in the hearts and actions of good and moral people.
I am profoundly ashamed that the person speaking to all of us as the president does not acknowledge the difference between those who incite and commit violence in support of their beliefs that America should be a “white nation,” and those who resist and reject those beliefs. That he doesn’t acknowledge a difference between Robert E. Lee and George Washington. That he believes white men who march with lit torches – long a symbol of black oppression of the most horrific kind – shouting “Blood and Soil,” “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us” are, or could be, “very fine people.”
We must fight against the darkness, and we must not be darkened by it. If we hate racism, we must offer an alternative to it in how we live every day, and we must call out when those who govern us condone or support it. In the words of Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
To support you in your personal stand against racist hatred, here from the Southern Poverty Law Center is Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.
And here’s an excellent article from The Nation about what you can do to fight against hatred.
And always, feel and share as much joy, hope, clarity and love as you possibly can.
Ever since 1934, when the Social Security administration established 65 as the “official” national retirement age, most of us have assumed that at somewhere around 65, we’d stop doing paid work. And even though the average 65-year-old these days has both a considerably greater life expectancy and much improved health compared to his or her 1934 counterpart, our association with 65 as the age of retirement remains. And that’s true even though we baby boomers aren’t adhering to it: only 1 in 4 boomers are fully retiring from paid work by 65. As has often been the case with us as a generation, we’re trying to figure out a different way to do things.
When I turned 65 recently, I didn’t expect it would have much impact on me, since I generally don’t think of myself as being any particular age. So I was surprised to find myself thinking a lot about working and not working, and how I intended to approach the next phase of my life. Even though I knew I didn’t want to stop working any time soon, I noticed that I also didn’t want to keep working at the same pace I’d been working for the last 45 years. I had already decided to work somewhat less starting this year – I had told people that I was “cutting back to full time.” They’d laugh, but it was pretty accurate: I’m experimenting with working around 40-45 hours a week, rather than 50-60 hours a week.
But I could feel there was some deeper issue not being addressed by that decision, and I wasn’t sure what it was. I called Lorie, a wonderful therapist and all-around wise person who has helped me enormously through times of major change over the past ten years, and told her what I was feeling and thinking. In a series of conversations, she helped me see that I was wanting to carve a new path for myself: that I felt constrained by what I saw as the limited and limiting expectations for women at 65 relative to work. I believe that society expects that women, if they do keep working after 65, will do it in a kind of invisible and genteel old-ladyish way: part-time, in a situation that doesn’t require or afford a lot of responsibility or power. (As an example, when I told a 30-something friend that I was struggling to figure out my work path for the next decade, she suggested that perhaps I could teach classes at our local library.) And the general expectation for us as retirees is that we will focus on taking care of our families, on our old-lady hobbies, or on doing good works.
Neither of those paths appealed to me. In my conversations with Lorie, I realized that I needed to “go off road,” to carve out a personal post-65 career path that works for me and those I love, and that may not fulfill any of those expectations.
And, as it turns out, what works for me is a life that includes the best of both worlds. In the world of work, I’ve realized that I’m doing the best work of my life, and I want to keep doing that. I’m braver, wiser, clearer, more experienced, and at the same time more flexible, compassionate and patient than ever before, and I intend for my clients and my colleagues to get the benefit of that. And in the world of retirement, I find I’m cherishing time with my husband, children, grandchildren, and other loved ones in a new and deeper way, knowing that my remaining time on earth is less than the time already passed. At the same time, I find that I need more time for reflection and recuperation in order to be at my best – and that I’m able to appreciate those resting periods more than I ever have before.
So I’m working and retiring simultaneously. When I’m working, it’s full-on, all-in: offering the best of who I am in deep and powerful partnership with my clients and colleagues. When I’m retiring, it’s full-on, all-in: 100% luxuriating in play, rest, travel, the love of those I love. I suspect the proportions of the two will continue to shift as I age: more time retired, less time working. But the depth of commitment to each will remain. That sense of doing whatever I’m doing with full joy and commitment is what resonates for me.
If you find yourself asking these kinds of questions – as I assume you might be, having read this far – my advice to you is not to adopt my solution or anyone else’s, but to find your own. Your life is precious, and it’s a great gift to have arrived in your 60s with your health and spirit intact. Be conscious in deciding how to take advantage of this gift you’ve been given, so that at the end of your days you feel satisfied that you’ve lived the life you most wanted to live.
You know those TV ads that feature rugged guys and pretty women exploring the wilderness in their shiny new Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, or Subaru Outback?
Back here in the real world, I suspect that the vast majority of people who buy those vehicles never take them off-road. It’s just that the idea of heading out on our own, beyond where the pavement stops, is so appealing to most of us that automakers have been milking those fantasies for years in hopes of driving more car sales. They believe people will watch those ads and think, If only I drove a ___________, then I’d have the freedom to live life on my own terms, not following society’s rules.
The off-road fantasy resonates because most of us often feel hemmed in by our responsibilities, by others’ expectations of us, by the rules and constraints of society. Buying a heavy-duty car and day-dreaming about driving it right off the edge of the highway provides us an illusion of freedom with a soupcón of ballsiness.
The ironic thing, though is that even though most of us will never go off-road physically, more of us are having to go off-road psychologically and emotionally than ever before. Think of our internal “highway” as the assumptions we make about what our role in society “should” be – those assumptions are fraying and falling apart in a way they never have before. And, more and more, we’re having to find our own path through this 21st century cultural landscape.
For example, sixty years ago, if I were a married woman of 65 with grown children and grandchildren (as I am), my “highway” would be pretty clear. I would be expected to be retired from whatever job I might have had (most likely as a teacher, nurse, clerk, factory or office worker). Though I might have gone back to work after my kids were out of the house, in my 60s I would be expected to stop working and spend my time taking care of the house, my husband, and perhaps the grandkids; to do age-appropriate activities (crafts, gardening, church or charity work); and perhaps – if we had some savings – to travel.
Today that very defined “road” is still being followed by many women in their sixties – but a big percentage of us are truly going “off-road” and hacking very different lives out of the wilderness: continuing to work while re-thinking the idea of retirement; using the expertise gained throughout our careers to start new businesses, either for-profit or not-for-profit; beginning new relationships; doing bucket-list things our moms and grandmas would never have considered. And some of us are even doing traditional things in new ways. I just read about a company called Rent A Grandma – basically, a service that matches “grandmas” (mature women with a love of children and lots of experience raising kids and running a household) with families who need them, since their own grandmas might be off doing something else and not available to them.
And all these possibilities for mental and cultural off-roading don’t just exist for people my age. Another example: sixty years ago, a young man of 22 would probably already be doing the job that he’d have for the rest of his working life (only about 1 in 10 men had college degrees in the US in 1957), saving money to get married, and preparing to be the sole – or at least major – support of his wife and children. His path was laid out.
Now, that young man can take any of a variety of paths – or make up his own. He could go to college, get a job, join a commune, travel the world with a backpack tending bar. He could get married (though most 22-year-olds don’t, these days), or he could live alone, with roommates or a girlfriend (or boyfriend) – or at home with his parents. He might use his twenties to decide what career path to follow, and that path could be something that didn’t exist before he started doing it.
So what does this imply, this new ability to blaze our own trail through life? First, it means we’re all going to have to get much better at learning and doing new things. If you’re interested in that topic and new to this blog, I wrote a book last year, Be Bad First, that’s all about how to be great at being a novice. Which, if you’re mentally off-roading, inventing your life as you go, is a critical capability.
The other thing, I’m finding, is that mental off-roading requires tremendous independence and courage. I feel as though I’ve definitely driven off the regular highway and am now officially in uncharted territory; my life at 65 certainly doesn’t look like my mom’s life did at this age, or my dad’s. It’s different in many ways from the lives most of my friends have created, or those my sister and brothers are living. I’m still working, building the business I started almost thirty years ago – but my role is changing in the company, as is the kind of work I want to do. I find myself more politically active than I’ve ever been. My marriage is amazing – and doesn’t feel anything like what I expected would be happening at this point in my life. My relationships with my kids and grandkids are rich and fun for all of us – but not what I think of as grandmotherly. Every day I find myself thinking some version of, Is this OK? I don’t see others my age doing/feeling/thinking this. OR Wow, this is very different from how my life was just a few years ago…what’s happening? And then I just have to check in with whether “this”, whatever it is, seems to be supporting me in creating the kind of life, relationships and results I want. And if so, I just have to take a deep breath and…keep driving.
I’d love to hear about your adventures in mental off-roading, too….
“For more than a century, from 1900 to 2006, campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts in achieving their stated goals. By attracting impressive support from citizens, whose activism takes the form of protests, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other forms of nonviolent noncooperation, these efforts help separate regimes from their main sources of power and produce remarkable results…”
– Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. Columbia University Press
I am not a fan of the new administration; I now deeply fear for our civil liberties, our human rights, and the fate of the planet. Like millions of people around the US and even around the world, I’m asking, “What can I do to protect the rights and freedoms that are most important to me, and to the US?”
And I’m finding answers; good practical answers that work for me, and that leverage the time-honored positive power of civil resistance. I’m experiencing the power of matching words to actions. Here are the two places I’m focused on putting my energy right now:
The Indivisible Guide is a handbook put together by former Congressional staffers, billed as “best practices for making congress listen.” The guide itself is practical and tested; the authors based it on the approach used by the Tea Party to (successfully) push back against Obama’s agenda. Even more exciting, it has spawned hundreds of local groups that are implementing its approaches at this moment. In fact, this morning my husband and I joined about a dozen other people from the indivisibleulster chapter to agree on a single issue (we chose the ACA) and walk to Rep. Faso’s Kingston, NY office to share our point of view. While there, we spoke with staff members and arranged to meet with his legislative staffer, who can set up face-to-face meetings for us with Faso. When we came back outside, we encountered a small demonstration – also Indivisible-based, and also focused on the ACA.
When we were speaking with Faso’s staff, a few members of our group noted that they had repeatedly called or emailed the congressman’s office and had received no reply. The staffer responded, “It’s just been so busy for the past month – I’m sure it will calm down soon.” A few of us smiled and said, “No. It won’t.”
The second place I’m focusing my energy is with my own existing network. Thus, this post. I’m also using twitter and facebook to share real information (as opposed to “alternative facts”) about what the administration is doing, and to encourage non-violent action to resist racism, authoritarianism, corruption and violations of our constitution.
I am a relentlessly optimistic person. Generally, I see that as a strength, but sometimes it has been a weakness. I am hopeful (optimistic?) that, in this situation, it will be a strength. Because I do see a silver lining in our current situation. Whenever I look at all the – to me – terrifying and saddening events of the past few months, I also see the response: the political awakening of literally millions of people who have never in their lives felt strongly enough about any political issue to act upon their convictions. They – we – are marching, calling, speaking up, offering time, money, expertise, knowledge.
“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit…
I’ve loved this poem since I first read it in the 1970s. Even as a young woman, I was enchanted with the idea that as an older person, a tribal elder, I could feel and be less constrained by the dictates of society, more willing and able to do as I pleased, to be a more quirky and braver version of myself.
And here I am, on the cusp of what is generally considered old age – soon to celebrate my 65th birthday – and though I may not literally have a stick, or be running it along the public railings, I’m proud to say that I find myself doing a metaphoric version of these things every day. I’m much more willing than I used to be to challenge assumptions – especially my own – and to be open to different ways of approaching situations or solving problems.
With age has also come a greater willingness to say true but difficult things if I think they will benefit a person, a relationship, an organization: I’m “pressing alarm bells.” And at the same time, I see that my increasing straightforwardness contains a tenderness and compassion that I believe was missing in my earlier years; I’ve now experienced enough pain of my own to know how hard it can be to hear difficult truths.
And I’m pleased to find that my passion for and joy in life are undiminished and, in fact, seem to be increasing; I wear celebratory, invisible purple and red nearly every day. However, I have noticed that my physical stamina is diminished – I get worn out working the 70-hour weeks of my 40s and 50s – and so I’ve decided I need to sit down on the pavement a bit more, so to speak.
I’m very grateful to have the influence and wherewithal to be able to craft my “sitting down” in a way that works for me. So here’s my plan: I’m going to “cut back to fulltime,” as I’ve been saying to my colleagues. Soon I’ll be working four long days every week, instead of five (or six). Starting after the first of the year, on Fridays I’ll mostly be doing things other than working.
It’s interesting watching the reactions I’m getting from friends and clients when I share this plan. Those younger than I are generally very supportive, and see this as a great way to create a little more space for rest and reflection, while still staying active in this work I love so much. Interestingly, the only people so far who seem uncomfortable with my plan are friends my age who are still in the workforce. And their negative response isn’t to the plan itself, but to my acknowledgement that I need a bit more time dedicated to recuperation in order to be at my best when I am working. “I still feel like I’m 29,” a client scowled when I shared this with him. One friend shook her head. “I think it’s limiting to believe we can’t have the same energy at 70 that we did at 30.”
Maybe. But maybe it’s limiting to believe we must have the same energy at 70 that we did at 30. At its core, Jenny Joseph’s poem is about authenticity: discovering and being your true self. And the older I get, the truer I want to be to what I know, understand, and experience, and the more clearly I want to live as a reflection of that truth.
What’s your version of wearing purple? If you were to shift the elements of your life to include more of what you want and need at this point in your evolution, what would that look like?