When we’re young, propelling ourselves in one direction and then another, we aren’t usually all that sure where we’re headed. If we’re lucky, we’re open to the possibilities. We let ourselves try new things. We put ourselves in situations in which we meet people we might never encounter if we’re being strategic. And, we get to have lots of new experiences because we’re letting ourselves explore.
Eventually—and again, if we’re fortunate—we find the path we want to walk and we meet the village of people with whom we will live the rest of our lives. And then, so often, the exploring and the openness end, or at least slow way down. We have discovered who we are and what we believe, and we check that off our lists and feel relieved that we can rest for a bit.
Order isn’t really all it’s
cracked up to be anyway, is it?
Pretty soon, life takes over. Instead of studying something we know nothing about just to learn a new idea, we focus on laundry, and kids, and late hours at work, and maybe making lists of stuff we’d like to do and study when we get more time. But we don’t really get more time because the laundry multiplies, the kids need more, and we could work 10 extra hours at our jobs and never feel caught up. It’s that sense I used to have on Monday mornings when I would open my eyes and it would feel like life was flying at me. All it made me long for was closing the door on Friday afternoon and holing up for the weekend.
The bad part of feeling overwhelmed was the way it made me close so many other doors. When life becomes too much, too stressful, too full, we know automatically to hunker down and protect ourselves. At 66, though, I’m realizing that safety and caution aren't really necessary anymore. In turns out that, in all the time that I was dealing with too many things on my plate, I was actually developing skills, honing my flexibility and my sense of humor, and making myself stronger overall. I have everything I need now to be bigger and braver. And yet that isn't the obvious choice when we are in our 60s. We seem much more likely to become shadows of our former selves. In truth, though, I'm in better physical and mental shape than ever before. Why not be bigger, instead of smaller?
Whenever I find myself thinking, “If I’d known then what I know now,” my initial feeling is regret for things I didn’t know how to do, or situations I wasn’t courageous enough to meet. But who says I can’t do it all now? We create road maps in our lives because it seems insane to just float from thing to thing with no real plan. We have to earn money and have relationships and take care of people we love. It makes sense to stay on a safe and healthy path. But we're here now. Why not use our skills and strengths and experiences to live as richly as possible? How bad would it be to meander off that well-trod road?
Instead of closing down shop because we've done and seen it all, we could try something new, view our lives from a unique lens. Why not try things we’ve always wanted to try, test our ideas against new and different ones, see parts of the world we never imagined seeing, or break some of the many rules we made for ourselves to keep things orderly? Order isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be anyway, is it? It helps us when we’re starting out and we need it, but now we can make up our own sense of order and time and progress.
I’m not embarking on some great rebellion here, but I am questioning the value of living so carefully and safely and predictably just because we’re older. We’ve done all that. This is the time to open our minds and our hearts, take some risks, go against the grain and see what we find. I’m convinced the result will be something great. A new discovery about our selves, a new friendship with someone very different from us, even just a new book to read. We've paid our dues to build the solid foundation. We deserve now to be creative about the details.