The following is a guest post from Janis, the author of the blog Retirementally Challenged. Today is her actual last day of work. On this most special occasion, she shares with us what it means to look back and to look forward.
As a young girl, I would often daydream about my future self. What would I do for a living? Would I be married? Have a family? Where would I live? What would I be like as an older woman of say, 30 or 40? I remember doing the math to figure out how old I would be at the turn of the century, then having a hard time imagining myself at that ancient age.
In those dreams, I never pictured myself as I am now, some fourteen years past the Millennium, in my late 50’s, getting wrinkly, starting to grey, and coming to grips with having more years behind me than in front of me.
If I could go back and talk to that young girl, I would tell her that things turned out pretty darn well for her aged self. My career path took a few twists and turns, but, for the most part, I did OK. I married late but picked a good man; he is smart, treats me well, and makes me laugh. No kids, but lots of friends. And, despite all of the opportunities I had to move to other locals, I ended up living fewer than ten miles from my childhood home.
What would be harder to describe to her is what it’s like to be me as I am now, because it seems that I am discovering a new me every day. Some of the new mes I really could do without (I am still surprised and slightly horrified when I catch a glimpse of my dimpled thighs and the loose skin on my upper arms), but mostly I find these new mes rather enjoyable to have around.
I’m much less focused on acquiring stuff and more focused on acquiring experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to shop, but I don’t buy things like I used to. I’m more circumspect and less compulsive. What I choose to bring into my home has a purpose and makes me happy (sometimes, of course, its purpose is to make me happy). I put much more value on spending time and money traveling and on creating opportunities to surround myself with those I love and who make me happy.
Although I try to be polite, I will state my opinion. I’ve always had strong opinions, but I haven’t always felt comfortable saying them out load, especially if I knew others would disagree. I still try to stay away from political arguments (unless, of course, I find myself face-to-face with someone who has been spoon-fed their opinions by Fox News), but now I worry less about people liking me and more about making sure my opinions are heard, and considered.
I probably don’t always dress “appropriately,” but I don’t care. When my mother was the age I am now, she dressed like someone her age “should.” She wasn’t especially interested in fashion and even at her slimmest, often favored elastic-waist pants and banded tops. Fortunately, now days, the lines between what’s appropriate for 20 and 30 year-olds and those several decades older are less defined. If I think I rock a pair of skinny jeans, I’ll wear them. If I like something, I don’t worry too much about it being age-appropriate. Body-appropriateness is a separate issue; there are some flabby less-toned areas I don’t feel comfortable exposing. But, to my 60-year-old neighbor who still looks great in a skirt several inches above her knees, I say “fabulous”!
I’m much less likely to say “yes” out of obligation or “no” out of fear. This is my favorite new me. I used to let “shoulds” have more control of my life than I do now. I realize that I can’t always do exactly what I want, but guilt no longer has the same power over me. If I feel pressure to say “yes” when I know that “no” or “maybe later” is truly best for me, I won’t let guilt or obligation sway my answer.
On the other hand, I’m more likely to say “yes” to an adventure. There is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of self-preservation, but when fear or worry is more irrational than rational, it can get in the way of living life to the fullest. There are plenty of things I regret not doing. I want fewer of those regrets in my future.
If I really could go back and talk to that young girl, the message that I would bring is to not wait as long as I did to become more courageous. Have fun, travel, be adventurous. Be bold; have the courage to speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable. Worry less about what others think, do, or how they dress; focus more on what feels authentic to you. Don’t do things just because it’s expected, or to fulfil the hopes and dreams of someone else; do it because you want to and it supports your best self. And, most of all don’t let fear hold you back. Push beyond the discomfort and understand that what you’ll find on the other side is personal triumph, power, and true happiness. That’s the side on which your 58-year-old self is standing, cheering you on.
Oh, and don’t spend so much time at the beach lying in the sun. Your older self’s skin will look much better and it’s really a waste of time.
If you would like to share your insights into aging with the Guerrilla Aging community, please send your guest post to firstname.lastname@example.org