The Older We Are, The Better it Gets
I have felt a sense of anxiety for as long as I can remember. Every early memory I have is painted on a backdrop of worry—about what comes next, what I’m supposed to do, and whether or not my mother is happy and ok. Since I lived it, it stands out to me that this is probably not what young kids are supposed to feel, but I think now that many, many of us did. We fretted over our places in our worlds at every stage, trying to fit in with the people around us, or grappling to distinguish ourselves in a positive way, if we couldn’t. Whether we were stressed over survival issues, family dramas, the state of the world, or our own mental health, many of us grew up worried. We were tiny kids carrying way more than we should have had to and it was uncomfortable at best.
The power to feel ok about myself was always in me. I see that clearly now.
That discomfort prompted me to almost single-handedly support the self-help book industry during my 20s and 30s. If I were that age today, I’d be making screen shots of memes and posting them someplace I could see them on a regular basis. But even advice from a book helped me to feel calmer and more present because it normalized what I was feeling. It reminded me that being alive and engaged takes courage and resilience, and that I wasn’t alone. Therapy buoyed me beyond belief. I learned to sit with what I was feeling and not go down the fast track to crazy anxiety, and I learned to not chastise myself for all of those feelings in the first place. And when I say “learned,” I mean that I at least occasionally remember to take a deep breath and know that everything is going to be ok.
But what has helped most with all of this anxiety is just living longer. The older I get, and the more experiences I have, the braver I am about just moving forward, no matter how nervous it makes me. I have a totally different feeling about my life now than I did when I was 35 or 40. Then, everything that happened seemed crucial and critical, and I agonized over my actions and reactions. Nowadays, I remember pretty quickly that I’m human and I’m doing a good job just chugging along in my life.
Sometimes I feel frustrated that it takes us so long to feel comfortable with ourselves and with the circumstances of our lives. We’re so convinced when we’re younger that there’s a way to do things. If we’re confident, we think we’re right, and if we’re not, we’re sure we’re messing up our lives. It never occurs to us that it just takes a lot of time to become familiar and at ease with who we are.
At 70, I find myself wishing I’d felt this easy and good 30 years ago—which I realize is a total waste of time. But I do lament having spent so many hours letting myself get worked up over things that were out of my control. I hate that I gave that much power to so many situations that really had nothing to do with me. I don’t spend too much time on this kind of regret, though. Mostly, I just feel so grateful to have gotten here, to this place where I feel ok with myself. This sense of ease lets me be so much more generous and present than I ever was in all those years that I worried about what people thought or if they liked me as much as I liked them. The power to feel ok about myself was always in me. I see that clearly now. But I suppose the windy road to that insight is necessary for the lesson to be truly learned. It’s hard to believe it’s so simple, yet so elusive, but it's such a relief to hold it inside me now after so many years.