There are times that the most obvious realities are the hardest to digest. As I occasionally find myself mired in inner dialog, lost in those inevitable what ifs, I remind myself of this: What isn’t… isn’t relevant. What is… is.
It’s almost impossible not to hash over mistakes. The lie that caused a marriage to unravel. The dispute with an employer that led to words you can’t take back. The move to the other side of the country — or to another country — that didn’t turn out to provide the lifestyle, the relationship, the work you were sure would follow.
Ah Yes… The “Shoulds”
It’s almost impossible not to compare ourselves to others — their homes, their marriages, their relationships, their appearance, their “success.”
Still… We don’t know what’s behind the upbeat smiles, the glittering social media feeds, the latest acquisition of a Birkin or a Lexus.
What we see may look pretty good to us — and in envy’s distorted shadow, we may not feel so great about our homes, our families, our jobs, our bodies.
But we’re going by surface impressions. We’re operating with spotty information, at best. We’re looking at what we don’t have, where we haven’t been, who we think we are not — and we’re falling short.
We’re bound to fall short, aren’t we? I should have been this, done that, had that.
We’re dealing in illusion, delusion, distraction.
I say distraction because it’s easy to lose ourselves for an hour or a day or longer in what “isn’t” and “if only.” These serve a purpose temporarily, if we’re also analyzing our missteps and internalizing how we can behave differently. However, if we dwell, what isn’t distracts us from working on what is. And of course, what can be.
There’s no question that we benefit from the lessons we glean from the past. That said, as I tell myself that what isn’t isn’t relevant, I know these words to be useful instruction for the child-me who pops up when I’m scared, stressed or extremely tired.
I’m guessing there’s a child in all of us who threatens the wiser, adult head. But a few minutes of indulging the child in her “what isn’t” must be enough. It’s more important that we — that I — get back to what is.
Dreams Open Doors
Recently, I dreamed that I was working with a client who assigned me to another part of the country. It wasn’t a permanent move, but I was spending several months in the area where I grew up. I’ve always loved New England, though the harsh winters were hard on me even as a young adult. And in the dream, I found myself feeling surprisingly at home, and I remarked to a colleague that I was tempted to move, but unsure if I was brave enough to do so at this stage in life.
“Am I able to do this?” I asked myself. And as I was waking, with the dream’s imagery still sharp, I looked out my window. The trees framing my view were familiar, the sunny skies were reassuring, the thermometer was most certainly well above freezing. As I quickly considered what is missing in my life — here, now, in this place and at this time — my adult inner voice said: “What isn’t… isn’t relevant. What is… is.”
Was I able to consider — or reconsider — the simple pleasure to be had in my view of greenery, the seasonal sunshine, the mild temperatures? Could I better judge the necessity of these aspects of my life, as compared to opportunities that might exist elsewhere?
What was my dream trying to point out? Questions that need closer examination, even if I don’t yet have answers?
Like most women, the last thing I want is to picture myself old – even though I know it’s inevitable – that is, if I’m lucky. It’s tough enough accepting midlife, don’t you think?
I’m still pondering this article on Psychology Today,“Planning for Successful Aging at Mid-Life,” which is one thing in theory and another in reality.
Addressing various angles on aging, Dr. Kathryn Betts Adams explains the concepts of “successful aging” as follows:
Coining the term successful aging in 1996, researchers Rowe and Kahn presented their well-known definition that emphasized the interaction of three related elements: 1.) Avoidance of physical illness and disability, 2.) Maintenance of high physical and cognitive function, and 3.) Continuing engagement in social and productive activities.
Okay. I’m processing…
Assuming we can do something about the first item, aren’t items 2 and 3 about our “full participation” in daily life? Don’t they require people, meaningful work, the exercise of our limbs and brains? What if we find ourselves over 50 and unemployed? Over 60 and unemployed? 50-something and struggling to decide how to make it in the dating world?
For those of us forced into creating new lives, don’t items 2 and 3 require that we let go of what isn’t? Doesn’t that mean we need to be brave enough to explore what could be, even if it means significant change, because it’s the only way we can recreate what “is?”
Rejecting Comparisons, Embracing Change
Certainly, there are cases when we can review, restructure and repair “what isn’t” and transform it into “what is.” But in our reinventions, in our efforts to change, in our exploration of next chapters — what if we were able to free ourselves from what isn’t when it’s holding us back? What if we were able to let go of our “shoulds” and “should have beens?”
Without question, we need our awareness, our clarity, our comprehension of where we have been. Sure, looking at other lives leads to aspiration, and we hope, motivation. Motivation to properly plan and then take action.
Here’s another “what isn’t isn’t relevant” that seems useful to me.
All media hype aside, reality at 55 is very different from reality at 40 or 45, just as that reality is different from our “selves” a decade earlier. To deny the physical changes is foolish. It is equally foolish to deny the conflicting feelings that we may have, understandably, as the passage of time itself becomes increasingly relevant.
I will not pretend that I love seeing my skin lose its once dewy glow. I will not pretend that I love hearing “you’re getting older, it’s normal” as I’m handed the latest prescription for glasses, and the same sentiment from the GP as he comments on the latest aches and pains. I will not pretend I like the growing impression of being invisible on the street, in particular to the opposite sex.
On the other hand, there’s much to like. I apologize for less. I recognize quality. I know who I am. I know what I want.
And so I tell myself: If you’re looking to renew, to reinvent, to reshape your life, don’t focus on what “isn’t,” and the past. Instead, consider what “is” and how to use it to create the future you desire.
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