When Jodi and I had been together a few months, we were invited to some event that, when I first heard about it, sounded awful. Too many people I didn’t know and too much of a requirement to make small talk. “We’re not doing that,” I said with a strong air of finality. I had been single for long enough to consider myself the boss of my social schedule. I had also spent enough years as a scared person that saying “No” was an automatic response to practically everything.
Because Jodi is a particularly kind, empathetic person—who personalizes practically no bad behavior from anyone—her reminder was gentle. I could make all the proclamations I wanted to about my own life, but I could not decide for both of us whether we would be participating or not. This is obvious relationship advice for anyone, but it also reminded me that Jodi is a person who generally says yes. I am not. Or at least I wasn’t.
You can’t live to be in your
mid-60s and not
grow some courage.
I’m not sure what’s going on, but I can feel a softening in my deep-seated commitment to protecting myself. I wasn’t sure at first, but a couple of weeks ago, I could definitely recognize the shift. I first noticed it when I asked Jodi if she had made a phone call that I knew neither of us wanted to make and that we’d been avoiding even in our conversations. The presumption was that she would do it because she is the better sport, and definitely the more affable of the two of us. She said she hadn’t done it yet and I felt a sense of dread. Then, I felt the change. “I’ll do it,” I said, and I picked up my phone and made the call. Of course, as with most things I am sure I don’t want to do, it was about 80 times easier than I had imagined. And doing it left me with a huge sense of accomplishment.I came back to my achievement several times that evening.
Granted it was only a phone call, but for an introvert, calling people out of the blue is akin to running wild in the streets. It produces a sense of anxiety I would rather avoid. It happened again later in the week when I made an arrangement for a house project to be done and then again when I had to handle something at work that I would have preferred to avoid. And then it occurred to me. I’ve often defined myself as a somewhat anxious and even scared person. I like to know what’s going to happen, I count on predictability, and I don’t love surprises. Truthfully, it’s hard to live a very full life with those parameters, but I’ve managed.
My overall point here is that I’m changing. “No” is not the first response that comes to my mind. And, the less I say it, the braver I get. Working in a challenging job right now is helping with this, I’m sure. But, I’m still surprised when I volunteer for something difficult or I just hold onto myself and continue moving forward when I feel as if I want to turn and run. One accomplishment definitely feeds the next. And, living as long as I have also gives me a much stronger view of myself than the one I’ve unconsciously carried with me all these years.
You can’t live to be in your mid-60s and not grow some courage. Every day of your life you see the tenuousness of situations around you and you see how much the world needs someone like you to step up and help out. I’m beginning to tell myself new stories about myself. I’m not really a scared person anymore. I’m anxious sometimes, but I also know that intentionally slowing down and taking a deep breath can go a long way toward calming my nerves. I can’t tell you how surprised and grateful I am to see myself continue to grow and to let myself change. I feel like I’ve discovered a hidden spot in a beautiful place. I think “no” is often on my lips because it’s a habit formed to protect myself from chaos. But I’m learning that saying “yes” lets me use the strength and wisdom I have, and to rely on my own agency to thrive.