So Glad to Be Me
I remember a friend who had entered her 40s before me saying that what she loved about this new decade was not caring what anyone thought of her. I alternately envied that feeling and realized it wasn’t so much other people’s assessment that I worried about, but my own. I didn’t grow up in a family that had a lot of rules. I was the only young person in a house full of adults and near-adults, and I mostly just made up my own guidelines. But, because there was a lot of chaos with all of those grown-ups, my personal structure was strict.
This ad-libbing of the rules also forced me to look outside myself for the master plan. I continually scanned families, other kids, TV shows, and magazines to figure out what I was supposed to be and do. Of course, since these were all rules and behaviors that had nothing to do with who I really was, I frequently fell short. I hadn’t yet developed the critical thinking skills to understand that what I thought I saw in other people’s lives was probably not accurate anyway. Instead, I held out a “perfect” version of myself as my goal. I was so focused on trying to meet these expectations for myself that I rarely got as far as thinking about what other people thought of me.
When all of those life hurdles are out of the way, you begin to see who you really are and how great that person is.
Now, as a woman finishing my seventh decade, my feeling about this scenario is mostly that it was a sad, fruitless, and pretty ridiculous way to live my life. I can't help but think that if I’d spent that same number of hours just appreciating who I was, I would have been much, much happier. I expect most of us did this in some way or other. We saw what seemed like ideal people outside of us and tried to get ourselves to match up. I’m even relatively sure that the same people we held up as role models were probably doing the same thing with someone else.
The problem with all of this, of course, is that if we spend years wishing we could be more like someone else, we miss getting to relish being us. For many of us, also, we didn’t appreciate who we were and what we had because our parents were busy and focused on the end goal, as well. Especially if you grew up in the 1950s and 60s, like I did, there wasn’t a huge emphasis on personal development. Conformity was the objective and few folks paid any attention to how hard that was for those of us who felt like there were a million miles between us and “the cool kids.”
I spent lots of years torturing myself for not having a life and a persona that matched some unnamed one out there in the ether. Few days were devoted to really even exploring and knowing who I was, much less appreciating it. Also, without love and empathy for myself, it was hard to feel it toward others. I mostly just quietly imagined that my life would be better if I were better. It breaks my heart now—not only to have been unkind to the younger version of me, but to have spent so many years on bad terms with myself.
But that’s what ends up being so great about getting older. You can definitely make up for lost time. In an almost magical way, when so many life hurdles are out of the way, you begin to see who you really are and how great that person is. I find myself not just accepting, but deeply appreciating some new part of myself practically every day. For me, the hardest part of getting older is realizing what a relatively short period of time I have left. The best part is knowing that, no matter how short that time is, I can spend it being so glad—finally—to just be me.