The other day one of my Facebook friends asked what the best part about aging was, and I gave an answer but I didn’t feel like I phrased it exactly how I wanted so OF COURSE my brain has been thinking about it in the background ever since.
(This is what I call “writer brain.”)
Here’s what I’ve settled on, which is much too long for a Facebook comment so is now a blog post:
The older I have gotten, the more the benign worries like 1) Amy I pretty/skinny enough? and 2) Do those people I think are important like me? and 3) How do I become the best mom/wife? have faded away. Now, did I realize those were the concrete thoughts/goals I was focusing on? No. Of course not. But I definitely look back at the younger version of me and she was DEFINITELY dealing with some childhood trauma from having one parent who essentially abandoned her and another who sometimes crushed her soul in other ways with his angry outbursts. I was also coming out of 12 years of Catholic education which also did a number on my definition of self and what I thought should be “valued” in the world. All of that created a younger version of me who focused entirely on things related to some sort of external value of “worth.”
As I got older (and received a lot of therapy) those worries were replaced by things like 1) What is my purpose? and 2) What fills my heart and soul? and 3) How do I become a better member of my community and 4) How do I care for the people I love?
This has lead me to change my career path and completely reshape how I spend my free time. But specifically? It has helped me prioritize my own joy, fulfillment, and purpose in ways I never prioritized myself before. Prioritize YOU! has become my over-40 mantra because I spent way too fucking long prioritizing everyone else’s needs at the sacrifice of my own fulfillment.
That may sound selfish, but it has really helped me feel more grounded in my every day. My house is never as clean as it used to be, but I’m reading more books and I’m painting more pictures and I’m going to more book clubs and I’m making more connections. I’m not as skinny as I once was but in place of weight and calories I’m thinking about things that help me be a better human and I’m doing things that bring me real joy. I have given up these misguided quest for “happiness” and have settled much more on striving to feel FULFILLED and PURPOSEFUL.
What does this look like practically? Well I created a lot of boundaries to stop myself from wasting my time with toxic relationships. I stopped doing things that I didn’t feel like actually added a benefit to my life or the life of my community/family. Does it really improve my family’s life to have clean baseboards and shelves? No. Does it make me feel fulfilled to clean the baseboards and shelves? Actually…no. Turns out when I dig deep I don’t actually care about those things. I do care about counter surfaced being cleared because that helps my ADHD, but am I going to scrub the tile in my bathtub? Shit no.
I used to be involved in a big organization where every time I went to a meeting someone was making fun of someone else. Now, I felt very cool to be at those meetings because it was a meeting of the cool kids but my soul was dying every time I chose to just sit quietly and let cruelty happen around me. Was the organization doing good things? Yes. But were all of the individual people involved helping me live my most fulfilled life? CERTAINLY NOT.
My love language is service so I still do a lot of things for the people I love. I wash my kid’s clothes for them, but I’m not putting them up because it was stressing me out and they so often threw everything in piles anyway that I found myself much more stressed out about if their rooms were clean when I was putting up their clothes. Now I just give them a basket of clean clothes and ask for their other basket of dirty clothes. They can live whatever way they choose to live and I can stop stressing about it.
We do have a policy in our house: If your room starts to effect your mental health and you need to “clean” it or “organize” it – let me know and we will team up together. Nikki is especially like me where if she has a big project coming up she can’t really work on it if her room is messy, so she’ll ask me to help and we’ll work as a team until it’s done.
But that is SO MUCH MORE FULFILLING than nagging her about her room every day just because I think my kids rooms are “supposed” to be clean.
I just think aging (and therapy) has brought me so much clarity in terms of how I spend my energy that my life just feels more full. I have realized what truly makes me feel good is purpose and connection and fulfillment and because of that I can prioritize ME and feel GOOD about it.
When we were on vacation in October I told my family, “If I get hit by a bus today please know that I will die feeling fulfilled. Are there other things I want to do with my life? Sure. But I am very happy with the life I’ve have lead and I have reached a very good place emotionally and so if my life is tragically cut short, please know that I am fine with that.” This is a very good feeling.
Oh…and another thing. I truly LOVE aging. I don’t hate any of the physical effects because they all say to me: “Goodbye Youth!” and for someone who struggled SO MUCH in her 20s and early 30s? I’m okay with saying, “Goodbye!” to that version of myself. Every wrinkles is a reminder of how far I’ve come.
3 thoughts on “On Aging And Learning To Prioritize Myself”
I love this! I’ve been letting go of a lot, too. 47 is too old to bother with things that used to stress me out. Having an older kid is pretty great!
I am FINALLY starting to lose my fear of missing out (FOMO), because I am older and learning to do me. I am drinking less, working out a little, enjoying outside (when it's not raining!), enjoying friends, enjoying alone time, and happier/more content. At times I think I am being too lazy because I am not GO-GO-GO like I used to be. But I continue to learn that I don't have to be. I can be content sitting on my butt watching TV or reading with a cat on my lap.
It’s a hard lesson to learn and an important one, good for you! Love that photo, both how happy you look and the gorgeous background. Perfect.