In the days leading up to my birthday last Saturday, I became obsessed with the aging process, how it seems to me to be made of all the stuff that we let go.
We let go reluctantly of our ability to read the fine print without reading glasses, for instance. We let go of the idea that our skin will remain smooth and elastic, that physically we can do anything we decide to do, that our metabolism will take care of it when we drown our sorrows in cinnamon buns and ice cream. We pass the shelf life of certain dreams, and we let them go too, watching the Olympics without any expectation that we might one day compete. We let go, little by little, of our children, knowing that’s part of our job, grateful for the years we get to spend at the center of their lives.
I know. It’s a depressing list. I was making myself crazy thinking about it all the time, but I couldn’t stop. As I helped The Boy with his college apps and struggled through a back injury incurred while doing a simple yoga pose I’ve done hundreds of times, I was feeling every bit my age, and feeling the losses, and wishing I knew how to slow down time.
And then it occurred to me how, right up until I’d hitched a ride on that depressing train of thought, I’d been feeling happy, excited about this website and some new writing projects, a couple of fun collaborations, my husband’s return from his last scheduled business trip, an exciting launch I’ll be announcing at the end of the month. (Like how I slid one that in there? Buzz, buzz!)
I regrouped (and to be fair, my back stopped hurting, which probably had more to do with my change in attitude than any sort of superhero optimism on my part), and while I still think the aging process feels like a road littered with the things we’ve left behind, I don’t think that’s all bad.
Because here’s some other stuff I’ve let go…
The problem with being a perfectionist is all the stuff that doesn’t get done, the stuff you might not even know you’re not doing. If you’re afraid of making a mistake, of looking silly or awkward or inexperienced, then you play it safe. You stay where you’re confident, stick to things you know how to do and do them well. But of course, the most interesting, evolutionary stuff isn’t happening there in the place you know – it’s out past your edges, out into the margins, where things are scary and unfamiliar. That’s where all the magic is.
I cringe every time I hear someone claim the title of perfectionist. I want to tell them to stop it. “Be a beginner instead,” I want to say. But then I think, maybe they’re just not old (or young) enough to understand.
The need to be right
Though some things absolutely are worth fighting for, not everything is. It’s okay that we don’t all agree. In fact it’s better that we don’t all agree.
It took me a long time to get this. Ask the people who love me, many of whom have been bruised in the process of me relentlessly making my point. I do that less now. I pick my fights. When I go toe to toe, it’s because it matters.
Caring so much what people think
I still care. I have more work to do in this area, but I care less and less all the time. And I’m starting to choose who to care about. Not every opinion carries the same weight. And this, from Brene Brown, is the golden rule for me:
I have no intake of any feedback or criticism from anyone who’s not in the arena. So unless you are, in your own capacity, in your own life, getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in what you have to share with me about my work.
(Side note: I’m reading and loving Daring Greatly now. I feel quite certain it will inspire some Wholehearted posts.)
Grudges, grievances and other toxic nonsense
I’ve still got some clouds blotting my blue sky, but I’ve been amazed at how powerful forgiveness is. I wrote a thorny, difficult post about compassion that, in the comments section, turned into a post about forgiveness. I said that it isn’t about condoning behavior but sometimes it feels like it is. In the amazing discussion that followed my post, my friend Michael Lockhart made the powerful point that forgiveness does not require communication with the forgiven.
I like to think of forgiveness as something I do for myself. Sometimes we get to share it with the person we’re ‘forgiving’, and that can be meaningful for both parties, but I don’t need my ‘forgiveness’ to be accepted by anyone to benefit from it; just letting go of the hate and rage is freeing. I can learn from it, learn to not repeat mistakes, learn to avoid relationships that aren’t healthy, learn to be more sensitive to situations and circumstances, or just learn to act with more empathy. It doesn’t mean I have to forget, accept bad (or monstrous) behavior, or be a doormat for anyone, but it does let me not be anchored to an unhealthy memory, relationship, etc., etc.
That is some seriously empowering stuff, no?
So now I’m curious. Wherever you are in the aging process, for better or worse, what have you let go of?