Last week I had the great good fortune to attend a screening of “The Whale”, staring Brendan Fraser. It’s a brilliantly acted film, and that in itself would have made it a worthwhile experience. But, to make it even better, Brendan was sitting 4 rows behind me to watch it, and then was interviewed afterward by Stephen Colbert. It was amazing to see and hear this actor, who I had previously dismissed as a “pretty boy” and mere comedic entertainer, now a thoughtful and humble craftsman. When asked what has made the difference for him in this type of role, he stated that he is now 53, and has learned to “work smarter”. And it made me start thinking of all the gifts I’ve gotten as I’ve aged as well.
For the past few months, I feel like my writing has been about overcoming the downside of aging. And while there is truth in what I have said, I don’t want to forget the absolutely amazing upside of it as well. Let’s start with a basic tenet: I just don’t care anymore.
OK, let me explain. In the past – well, most of my life up until recently – I cared way too much. I cared what you thought about what I said or did or how I looked or who I was with. My sense of self-worth was intricately tied to the acceptance by others. I think I started releasing the NEED for acceptance in my mid-40s, but still WANTED it. Not until my mid-50s did I shift my perspective away from the should’s, and started to figure out what I really wanted. And now, a decade later, I’m evolved even further. Now it really doesn’t matter to me what people think. I am fully grounded in what it is that works for me, and what doesn’t, and while I can still be kind and considerate, I don’t need to please anyone but myself. It is an amazingly freeing feeling.
The next wonderful thing about aging is perspective. When you are young, you cannot see the long game because you haven’t lived enough yet. Now I know that time takes time, that not everything has to be accomplished immediately and if you’re not doing what brings you joy, move on. I had a conversation with my 93-year-old mother-in-law recently and she told me how smart it is of me to keep working. She said she regrets retiring at age 62 (which shocked me, as I thought she was so old then! Again – perspective!). What she regrets is not staying around young people. I get that. In my current job, I work with 20-somethings who are right out of college. It is refreshing and invigorating to see the world through their eyes. It is also a blessing to be able to share my perspective with them when they feel they MUST achieve NOW or else! Learning to breathe, to experience life, to form relationships and to live an innately curious life are all true gifts I have received along the way. I would never have known the value of those things had I not been around this long to experience it.
Lastly (but hardly lastly, as I learn more every day), there is depth. What I know for sure has deepened. Real friendships have moved to new levels. Beliefs have solidified. Self-awareness has taken on a new intensity. There is a knowing now that I could not have possibly had at a time in my youth. It is a knowing based on experiencing life in all forms. How could you possibly know the depths of sadness or the heights of joy if you had not had the opportunity to live them all?
Yes, my ego is still alive and well and causing me to flinch when I look in the mirror. But that is such a minor part of my existence. For today, I am awash in gratitude for this journey of life – for what has been and for what is to become. I’ll embrace my inner elder sage, ever curious about this grand experiment of life.