It seems many women feel stuck and hopeless after 60. Some of the responses to my article “3 Essential Elements to Getting What You Want” are the living proof.
I vividly remember that place, those lost years. I remember thinking, “I’m just marking time, waiting to die.” Once I’d given words to that feeling, I knew I had to make big changes. I didn’t want to depart my precious time on this earth with regrets.
I was approaching 60, married, living my husband’s life and working in partnership with him in a job that wasn’t suited for me. It was my fifth marriage, and it wasn’t working, but I couldn’t face the shame of yet another divorce.
I’d crafted a well-put-together public persona, a buttoned-up, Ralph Lauren sophistication – call it a mask – that hid the insecurity and fear from a lifetime of poor choices.
People often commented on what a calm, competent, successful person I was. That’s exactly what I wanted them to believe. But living a lie takes a toll.
When I realized that I was marking time instead of living, desperation set in.
I knew I didn’t want my current life, but what did I want in its place? I knew I presented a believable façade, yet underneath – who was I really?
The questions haunted me. Self-help books teetered on my nightstand. Journaling took on new importance. About that time the economy plunged and financial distress was added to my growing despair.
There was something about hitting bottom that felt deserved. Perhaps it was that point of hopelessness that made me feel like I’d paid the price for my mistakes and now could move on. The crawl out of the depths took a couple of years, but crawl out I did. Here’s what worked for me:
I began to list things I loved; things, not people, because it was only about me. I wrote: sunlight streaming through french doors, uninterrupted vistas, clouds, daydreaming. Over months, whenever I thought of something new I’d add it to the list.
I dug around in the past. What had I enjoyed doing once upon a time that I no longer did? I had played the piano, guitar, flute. I’d sung, danced, traveled. I’d loved to write.
I explored unfinished dreams. At various times I’d wanted to be a foreign correspondent, an actress, a jockey, an attorney. I’d become none of them. What would be meaningful to me as I aged? I scratched jockey off the list!
I invented discovery writing. Every morning I jotted down whatever came through my mind whether it made sense or not. When something caught my attention, I stopped to ask myself a ‘why’ question about it.
I used only why, never what, when, where or how. After each of my answers I would ask another why question about that answer until it brought me to a startling discovery about myself. Often, the trail of why filled pages.
Many self-help books take the reader through a process of answering questions. Those answers come from the stories we’ve always told ourselves. The author doesn’t know who we are and can only ask generic questions.
When we frame our own questions, and persist in following the trail to its source, the results will revolutionize our understanding of what motivates us. So much of what we believe about ourselves and others is based on information that was gathered and stored in our subconscious mind before the age of six, and no longer applies. Some of it is simply not true.
This kind of self-questioning, crazy as it sounds, takes us to the core of our beliefs. Only when we know the forces behind our choices, can we make sweeping changes in our lives.
Many of us are not in the habit of giving to ourselves. Hard work is familiar. Putting self last, or not at all, is a pattern of neglect that has to stop. At first, just the idea of taking time to think about what I loved seemed wildly indulgent. Delicious. It made me cry.
How could I give myself the tropics in a frigid Minnesota winter? I create fiery heat and exotic scents with candles and incense. I made a habit of buying myself a bouquet while shopping for groceries.
Small acts of kindness to self eventually make it possible to believe we can have all of what we want.
I’ve pared down the process to its bones, but if you’re sick enough of the way things are, and tired of making excuses that keep you small and sad, this will get you moving in the right direction. We have enormous power to change our circumstances. Nobody else can do it for us.
I invite you to check out my blog “Writing for Self-Discovery – Creating a Life that Fits Like Skin” and imagine what a life that fits you as intimately as your skin would look like for you.
What are the stories you tell yourself that keep you stuck? Are you telling yourself right now that you can’t do this? Why can’t you do this? Please share your thoughts below.