It was the early seventies when I first heard a commercial for Loving Care reassure me, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” At the impressionable age of 7 or 8, I had high hopes of getting older and better. However, it’s taken me decades to truly appreciate the wisdom of this bit of marketing.
Contrary to popular belief, getting older does not mean stepping off a cliff into an abyss of aches and pains, memory loss and incontinence, age spots and unsightly facial hair. These things may or may not come with the territory, but they definitely don’t define what I’ve come to see as this grace period I’ve grown into.
I went begrudgingly into my forties. I was attached to being relatively young, reasonably attractive, and readily available. I feared crossing the threshold into middle age would catapult me into oblivion. I assumed I’d immediately become invisible, undesirable, and unemployable.
That was not an appealing option.
The better option was to own my throne and step into a Queendom of my own making. The world needs more Kings and Queens, grown up men and women who know who they are, understand what they have to offer, and are not afraid to contribute to the well-being of the world. Instead of depending on the world to define them, who they are defines the world.
We live in a youth-obsessed society. Letting go of the goodies surrounding princes and princesses isn’t easy. We’ve all grieved our glory days. Yet every age has its upsides. Unfortunately, we tend to focus more on the downsides the further on down the road we go.
As founder of the Midlife MacGyver Movement and an enthusiastic advocate of Getting Your Groove Back, I’m here to put a stop to all the trash talk about aging.
As I settle into my fifth decade, I’ve never felt more confident about my ability to move about the planet, share my ideas, open my mind, inhabit my body, learn from those who are different from me, relax into the unknown, and trust my ability to handle whatever happens next.
I’m living the dream, albeit a very different one than I imagined when I was half my age. If someone would have suggested to my younger self I’d be living where I’m living, doing what I’m doing with the people I’m doing it with, I wouldn’t have believed them. And yet if I connect the dots, there’s no doubt I would be here now.
I recently read an article by Ramit Sethi called Why Successful People Take 10 Years to “Succeed Overnight.” It caught my attention in part because I’ve always joked it’s taken me 40 years to achieve overnight success. And by “success” I mean the way I measure it these days. This, too, is very different than I would have defined it even a few years ago.
Sethi talks about the underappreciated power of sequence and using the domino strategy to take one small step. Like dominoes, that first small step is followed by a little bit bigger step and so on, creating the momentum that can ultimately move mountains, or at least very large dominoes. He explores the invisible scripts that run and often sabotage our lives, and how the treadmill of disappointment can derail us right when we’re on the verge of a breakthrough.
If you’ve lived long enough, you’ll recognize where you’ve succeeded and where you’ve strayed. And if you’ve learned anything, you’ll know without a doubt, you’re not just getting older. Fortunately for all of us, you’re getting better.
Today I embark on another trip around the sun, chalking up another year to experience. Of the many things I’m grateful for, one is getting to show up in your inbox unannounced and share stuff that catches my fancy.
Thanks for reading and allowing me to do the thing that makes me feel the most alive and the most vulnerable. Open a vein and let the words pour out.
It’s Leap Day!
Following in Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes footsteps, this Leap Year I’ve decided to say yes to any reasonable opportunity to expand and grow, despite its power to terrify and send me into a full blown panic before, during, and after the opportunity.
For me this means doing anything that involves public scrutiny of my less than perfect performances. Whether those performances include speaking, leading, teaching, or seizing my fifteen minutes of fame, the moment I have an audience is the moment I doubt the dazzling idea that came to me in the shower and insisted I share it publicly. It’s the moment my heart beats faster, my mouth goes dry, and my voice gets a little shaky.
I’m determined to manage this and train my butterflies to fly in formation. I’ve pondered Eleonor Roosevelt’s suggestion to, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Because that idea instantly overwhelms me, I’ve amended it to doing one thing every month that scares me.
Because here’s what happens when I get too comfortable. When I finally do venture out into what I call my evolutionary zone, I have to summon up every ounce of courage and grit from my previous expeditions. If it’s been more than 21 days, I’ve more than likely lost my mojo and have to start all over again.
To save time and energy, I’ve decided to just keep putting myself out there. Instead of retreating back to the safety of base camp, I plan to keep climbing and set up temporary shelter at higher altitudes.
For example, last Friday I did something nine years in the making. I collaborated with a co-worker to present a session at our Staff Development Day. I know what you’re thinking. No big deal. You may have to do this kind of thing all the time.
The reason it was a big deal to me was because I used to train and speak to groups for a living prior to taking this job. When I put on my college administrator hat, I put away my stand-up comedienne/trainer hat and hoped the delusions of grandeur would subside.
Watching others do what I am perfectly capable of doing or, worse, witnessing people fail to do what needs to be done, catapulted me out my comfort zone. “Be the change you seek,” means nothing unless I act on it.
For me this meant volunteering to lead the kind of session I would like to attend on Staff Development Day. It also meant submitting a proposal a year ago to speak at Beyond Rubies, a fabulous women’s conference at Kirkwood Community College, this Thursday and Friday, March 3-4. (If you happen to be in Iowa, please join me Friday morning and learn How to Get Your Groove Back.)
I don’t do this for the money. In fact, there’s usually no compensation involved in these kinds of gigs. The payoff for me is who I become in the process of facing what feels like either a potential public execution (one that ends my career) or an evolutionary experience (one that moves me forward).
Who I become regardless of the outcome is a voracious reader, devouring anything remotely related to my topic. I become incredibly curious and open as I scout for examples to backup my theories. I become bold and daring as I try out new material on anyone who will listen, my dog and houseplants included. And I’m forced to relax and put all the things I’m preaching into practice so I align my words and actions and authentically walk my talk.
When I do that, something remarkable happens. I become the change other people are seeking and enthusiastically share my secrets. The nerves fall away, the worry about what might come out of my mouth disappears, and I am present, having fun, and connecting with the most amazing people.
I made some rookie mistakes on Friday because it had been awhile since I had presented. I was aware of them, my co-presenter was aware of them, and maybe even my friends in the audience caught them. But no one let on. Everyone acted as if attending the last presentation on a Friday afternoon was a seamless segue into a well-deserved weekend.
This Leap Day you have an opportunity to say “yes” to new beginnings. Or you can say”no” to what needs to end. Name and claim, tame, or reframe whatever you want to bring into being. Then do the one thing that’s scariest of all – act on it.
I’d love to hear about your leaps in the comments below.
I was talking with a friend who was describing his life as being on hold for the past three or four years. Anyone who has been on hold for three or four minutes can imagine how excruciating three or four years might feel. Everything he tried from seeking new employment to moving to a new city to looking for love seemed to get a resounding “no” or “not yet” from the universe even though his biological clock was ticking at an alarming rate.
I could relate, having spent more than a few years wandering around the desert in what seemed like a perpetual pause. It wasn’t that I didn’t have dreams. It wasn’t even that I didn’t have the time because by all accounts, especially my bank account, that’s all I had.
What I didn’t have was structure, a strategy, or accountability. I had a grand vision for my future but I had no plan for how each day could lead me anywhere but into temptation. Like a tumbleweed, my daily course was determined by whichever way the prevailing winds blew. I was definitely in what Gretchen Rubin calls drift or “the decision you make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don’t take responsibility.”
The good news is most detours eventually lead us back to the beaten path, often with insights we’d never have gleaned if not for the detour. Now that I have a lot of structure and accountability, I often lament my lack of free time for creative pursuits. I remembered the long days of limbo and wondered why in the world I didn’t write more, do more, or accomplish more.
But those days by their very nature evoked a kind of analysis paralysis. I couldn’t see the gift of “the pause” then because I was so desperately confused about my overwhelming underachievement, my lack of monetary resources, and the enormous burden of potential. I was so focused on what wasn’t working that I couldn’t see what was and take full advantage of it.
Listening to my friend, I started thinking about what I know now that might help someone in a similar situation take the kind of action that would pull him or her forward with purpose and passion.
Here is what I came up with.
1 – When in doubt, begin. You don’t know what you don’t know. So start immediately and find out. You do not need a lot of money to begin. In fact, at this stage of the game, if you have too many resources, you’ll probably squander them. Because you don’t know what you don’t know, you won’t yet know what or how to properly invest those resources.
What you need is an idea, the courage to act on it, and someone to hold you accountable for doing what you say you’re going to do. You must connect with other people. If you are too timid to get out and meet people, start with a virtual community. Don’t simply stalk. Talk. Connect. Contribute. No one knows you are there until you give yourself away.
2. Begin again. Every day you will need to recommit to yourself, your project, the changes you want to make, the action you need to take. This may be easy when the project is new and fun and you are getting some positive feedback. Regretfully, this will not last. One day you will wake up and convince yourself none of it matters. It does. Begin again.
It may feel like you are taking baby steps or managing micro movements that are getting you nowhere. It may even feel like you are losing ground. Backing up is sometimes necessary to gain the speed you need for takeoff. You simply must begin again. And then again and again. Each time you begin, you start from a different vantage point. You gain more experience and perspective.
3. Start where you are. Do what you can with what you’ve got. You will always have a reason to postpone the start if you wait for everything to align before you dare to act. Don’t miss the gift of today by waiting for the perfect someday. Lean times are the best learning times. They teach you about what’s essential. Then creativity kicks in and help you figure out how to get it.
4. Get fit. The same factors that contribute to an effective fitness program contribute to the success of any program. Strength, flexibility, and endurance are essential to taking an idea from inception to execution. You have to summon your strength for the many times things don’t go as you would like, which will be daily, possibly hourly, at the start. You also have to stay as flexible as possible since your idea will and should undergo many incarnations as it evolves and adapts. And you’ll need to pace yourself and build your endurance so you can manage your time and energy over the long haul.
5. Manage your expectations. Beginning is hard. Beginning again is harder. Starting where you are and getting fit take a real commitment. Once you’ve worked through these steps you may be more than a little anxious to see some results or at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. Do not set yourself up for disappointment by assuming you know what success should look like and when it should arrive. That blinding light could be an oncoming train. Don’t get derailed by thinking it should have been your ticket out of oblivion. Resilience is a key quality to have in your toolkit. We are a society obsessed with overnight success and Cinderella stories. Yours is not a fairy tale but a love story, an adventure story, a comedy and drama where all parts of you embark on a hero’s journey. Expect the unexpected.
6. Get ready. Gather your wits about you. While it may look as if nothing is happening, you’re simply experiencing that grace period when you can fly under the radar and make mistakes without anyone really noticing. Use this grace period to figure out who you are, what you want, why you want it and what you are willing to do, sacrifice, contribute, give up, allow, and accept so when the world comes knocking at your door, you are ready to let them in.
If you have some secrets that you’d like to share about the art of the start, please add them below!