I believe that the greatest gift aging presents is the wisdom allowing us to become our most authentic selves. Over the span of my 30 year career, I’ve met many people—myself included—who have hidden under layers of personas. We don masks to hide the real self in lieu of pleasing individuals who gave us messages that they thought would serve us throughout our lives. It usually starts with our parents. It is a shame that parenting skills are not taught as part of our education since this is one of the most important things we could learn.
Instead we often parrot what we heard growing up. Most parents try to do the best they can. My Mother shared many of her positive attributes with me. But she also shared many of her fears. I was an only child and she tried to protect me as if I was made of glass. Not a day went by without her cautioning me about something. Following are some typical comments : “Stop moving so much, you’re going to hurt yourself”. “Don’t run with that stick in your hand, you’ll poke your eye out!” “ What will people say if you act silly?”. As I got older I started to realize that a some of her “fear tapes” had elements of humor around them.
If you run around with a stick in your hand you can’t poke your eye out, but you can poke it in. The worry that “they” might see you do anything is ludicrous, since I don’t know who “they” are. I have met so many people who discount their own needs in deference to a group of individuals they have never met or seen.
I used to clean my house until it looked like something out of a museum, mostly out of fear that someone unexpected might come over. I should have put a velvet rope across the front door. What a waste of energy! Unfortunately the messages we heard as children become embedded in our brains and we often act on them automatically. That’s why it becomes very difficult to change our behaviors. The voices of others become our own and then we use them on our friends and families. How many of you have said “ Wow, I’m starting to sound like my mother or father.
It’s not easy to find our uniqueness. It takes courage and tenacity. We have to decide what messages we should keep and which ones we should discard. I am grateful to a community of relatives for much of what they taught me, but I have also realized that I can choose to follow my own path even though I know many of them would not have approved. I still don’t know who “they” are, and furthermore I don’t care!