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. These “imposters” are there to mask the fears and the lack of nurturing we might have endured as children. We’re not all victims of abusive parenting, but the vast majority of us have altered our personalities because someone, somewhere, made us feel ashamed to be who we really are.
Were you accused of being too sensitive or too outgoing? Perhaps you laughed a great deal, moved around too much, or were a social butterfly? Or maybe you had a fantastic imagination and were incredibly creative. Sadly, it often takes just one negative comment and you decide to put away that piece of yourself that gave you joy; for some reason, it seems very important to please the inner critic… instead of staying true to yourself.
When we internalize these critical voices, we often forget about our glorious origins, and then the voices become our own. But if we choose to ignore the negative statements, if we realize that they’re not relevant to us and don’t define who we are, we can finally become the wise and wonderful sages we’re meant to be.
Once our comfort levels increase, we have more energy to enter a phase of aging that psychoanalyst Erik Erikson called generativity, which refers to the point in our lives when we have the opportunity to become consultants, guides, mentors, or coaches to young adults in the larger society. It also means a time for community building. I’ve found this to be one of my greatest blessings, but it wasn’t something I was capable of bringing into my life to the degree I have until I understood my own history and how it influenced my behavior. Only then was I truly able to give of myself to family, friends, and others in the way I do now.
At this moment, I’m fortunate to have the energy I need in order to live the life I’ve always wanted. However, I also have moments when I question the reasons for my very existence. Does it matter if I share my wisdom with audiences throughout the world? Should I have stayed home and been the good wife and mother? Will I be riddled with guilt because I didn’t follow the path my mother thought would have been best for me? Do I have enough money to support myself through my last days, or will I have to tap dance between doorways with a tin cup in my hand, hoping I’ll get a few dimes?
I thank God everyday that I am still capable of laughing at myself. And I hope that I will be able to continue to foster that ability in others. Laughter has helped me to survive my life, it really is the best medicine.