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Bigger View, Better Life

My partner Jodi was out of town for a few days recently. I was delighted for her to get to do what she was doing, and I felt good about what I was doing in her absence. Still, without her around to keep me “honest”—and without me even realizing it, I quickly fell into my go-to mode: trying to do more than I could handle and then wearing myself out by simultaneously spinning plates and trying to control everything around me. I felt my regular anxiety, but that’s nothing new. I just plowed through it like I learned to do as a kid, and I didn’t look at all at the bigger picture. If I had, I would have realized that I have a lot going on right now, and that some rest and relaxation is in order. Instead, I just made elaborate plans and clung to my belief that I could to do it all.

At 71, I fully believe that this is the time to expand my view and to make big, full decisions about what I want my life to look like, including ample doses of self-care.

Though our life lessons didn’t look the same, many of us grew up learning how to live “safely and efficiently” early on, to not cause trouble, to do what's expected of us, and to not draw a lot of attention to ourselves. This meant that we adopted personal rules and behaviors that we wore like armor, whether they were good for us or not. As the stable one in my family, I always stepped up to help if someone needed me to, never thinking about what toll it might take on me. In my view, it was a yes or no proposition. I rarely said no, and I didn't have the confidence to say yes with the caveat of building in my own R&R when I needed it. I am in awe of people who create space for their own self-care as a matter of course. And yet, in the book of rules I created for myself, asking for rest and personal space were signs of selfishness and weakness. On the flip side of this somewhat tortured approach to the world, by the time I was a young adult, I not only expected disaster, but got busy managing it in my head before it ever occurred.

What all this means is that, in an attempt to feel less anxiety, I learned to keep my head down, follow my made-up rules, and see myself as small and unobtrusive. I convinced myself thoroughly that this is the place I would feel safest and most comfortable. But of course, it’s exactly the opposite. The narrower my view, the less I challenge myself, and the fewer options I consider, the greater the chance that I just get smaller and smaller. It turns out that the more I stand strong in myself and take in the whole picture in front of me, the bigger and better I feel. It’s exactly the opposite of the “stay small” principle I’ve convinced myself I needed all these years.

As challenging as it is to learn a whole new way of meeting the world, I love the fact that I want to be bigger at this end of my life. I read a wonderful article last week by Younger Next Year author Chris Crowley. At 88, he still skis and cycles, leads workshops, and writes books. He warns that having low expectations for ourselves, especially as we age, is the wrong approach. The less we think we can do in our lives, the less we’ll do. And then, the less we’ll be able to do. This goes for physical aspirations as well as intellectual pursuits.

I know why I grew up thinking small, underestimating what I could do, and predicting calamity. It was definitely more prudent, and the chances for disappointment were much smaller. But that was then, and this is now. At 71, I fully believe that this is the time to expand my view and to make big, full decisions about what I want my life to look like, including ample doses of self-care. I’ve earned that right, and I know I have all the skills and insights I need to handle what’s around the corner. If I don’t, I’ll learn them. I don't doubt that at all.


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