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Appreciating My Own Way of Being in the World

Photo by Jodi Adkins

I’ve compared myself to other people forever. Even back in third or fourth grade, I felt bad because I didn’t look as “ladylike” as the cute girls in my class. Later, I put myself lower on the rung of goodness because I wasn’t as smart or as rich or as confident as the people sitting next to me in high school and college. Of course, many of these assessments were probably not even accurate, but I fell into that familiar loop early in my life and it was hard to see myself any other way.

The worst result of spending so many years comparing myself to other people is that it took me forever to see my true self, much less appreciate who I was in all my own unique ways. Instead of growing up appreciating my skills and attributes as I discovered them, I focused more on how I fell short—often of some imagined standard or way of being in the world. I would see people in their lives and decide then and there that the way they looked or spoke or conducted themselves was far better than anything I did. It just became my way of meeting the world. In journals and to-do lists, I vowed to improve myself and become “more like them,” but I was never all that successful. Needless to say, trying to be like someone else—especially if that benchmark is made up—is impossible.

Humans are interested, engaged, and resilient, regardless of our ages or circumstances. It’s our job to discover what that looks like for us and to march forward with courage.

Plus, the whole time I was feeling bad that I didn’t look, or act, or eat, or work-out, or write, or read, or invest, or save like these superstar people in my sphere, I was just kind of going through the motions of my own life. When I realize now that I could have been relishing everything that was uniquely me, it’s a little sad. Thanks to time and therapy, though, I developed a much better sense of my individuality and grew to make a habit of appreciating my own wisdom, humor, and approach to life.

Still, when I retired, my comparison habit came rushing back."I should feel super excited to have all this free time," I thought, "because look how much fun that guy is having." Or, "I should be volunteering more or playing golf more because that’s what those people are doing and they clearly have the right answer." I went right back to the idea that these external notions of “goodness and success” were what I should strive for in this next phase of my life. I thought I should do what they were doing and feel like they felt. This was definitely part of what kept me from easing into my retirement more smoothly.

Fortunately, time has again been my friend. After a couple of false starts, I’ve started listening to my own voice and paying attention to what I want to do and how I feel. I’ve realized that my life doesn’t have to look like someone else’s in order for it to be rich and interesting and fulfilling. What it has to look like is a life filled with activities and interests that engage me—just me. And I’m slowly developing the confidence to move forward when I find something that piques my interest.

It's funny to me that, at 70, I’m kind of starting over—partly with this new phase of life, and partly with a renewed sense of myself. It feels good to be charting my own territory and to be deciding for myself what risks I want to take and what interests I want to pursue. I’ve said this many times, but our capacity to always grow like this is one of the aspects of life that gives me the greatest hope. Humans are interested, engaged, and resilient, regardless of our ages or circumstances. It’s our job to discover what that looks like for us and to march forward with courage. I feel so lucky to know that now.


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