Family/CommunicationReflectionDecember 13, 20160Cutting Back to Fulltime

Learning to give yourself more of what you need is a fascinating journey at any age.

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.

shutterstock_65165581And 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? 

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