Starting over. No matter what your circumstances, it can be a tough road — tough to begin, tough to sustain, and even with the finish line in sight, tough to go those last steps to success. Although I might claim that starting over after 50 is tougher — I have encountered barriers in recent years that did not exist when I was younger — a restart of any sort at any age can be tough. It’s tougher still when you’re your own worst enemy, self-sabotaging with “I can’t” over “I can.”
Is a great attitude all it takes? Perky platitudes, affirmations, a perpetual smile on your face?
Hardly. And anyone who knows me (or reads me) understands that I don’t belong to that school of thought.
My belief? Yes, attitude is important, very important, in fact. However, specific skills, character, confidence, a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them — and a bit of luck — are going to propel you toward your goals, complemented and enhanced by a positive attitude.
Taking a hard look inside. Owning up to responsibility. Recognizing the importance of a support system.
And… A reality check.
Let’s Get Real: Sometimes Life Sucks
Some things are hard. Very hard. To pretend otherwise is foolish. You can’t wish away the reality of a medical condition that requires money, treatment, vigilance. You can’t ignore the reality of a spouse who leaves, leaving you disoriented. You can’t survive the reality of unemployment when all job options seem to desert, and your financial reserves have dried up. You can’t close your eyes to the reality of mental illness or substance abuse in the family, draining you of energy, hopefulness, resources.
Maybe you purposely seek the positive angle and put your worries into a broader context, one in which you see all the scenarios and situations that are worse — more grueling, more frightening, and more dire than your own.
Yet in the reality of any of the scenarios above — and others, of course — is this: There are no easy fixes. You want to move forward, to put the pieces back together. But try as you might, you can’t seem to do it. At least, not yet.
Another reality: As human beings, there will be times we are challenged, confused, scared, hurt. There are times we have no idea what to do next. There are hard stops that mean we stop, hard. So… what if we could admit that we are distraught, discouraged, depressed… and worn down? What if we could express these feelings without being guilted, shamed, or told everything is “our own fault?”
Isn’t it easier to move beyond difficulties when we are allowed to just say the words? And easier still with a support network, however we can create it? And couldn’t we agree that a well-chosen community just may hold up a more objective and reassuring mirror so we can assess who we are, who we can become, and what we can accomplish?
The Psychology of Self-Sabotage
Procrastination. Self-criticism. Drinking in excess or other self-medicating and destructive behaviors. These are what come to mind when I think of the ways I’ve seen women get in their own way. And that doesn’t even begin to approach the ways we sabotage relationships by picking fights, by passive-aggressive behaviors, and by choosing not to communicate with our partners.
Are we so afraid of success? Afraid we won’t be liked, much less loved? Are we more conditioned, if not for outright failure — for something less than spectacular performance? Are we so wired for safety that we prefer being mired in the mediocre self, job, or marriage to risking something better?
Behavior is self-sabotaging when in attempting to solve or cope with a problem, it instigates new problems, interferes with long-term goals, and unsettles relationships.
Self-sabotaging behaviors can become the bad habits of a lifetime. My own little case in point: For me, periods of extreme stress or upheaval typically open chasms of old insecurity. I am either unable to eat, or I overeat. The former eventually leaves me weak and struggling physically; the latter, if left unchecked, progresses from soothing to obsessing over weight gain, which erodes my confidence and undermines my ability to achieve my goals.
Losing Ourselves in…
What else do women, especially, tend to do?
We lose ourselves in modesty or self-effacing behaviors; we qualify our questions, our opinions, our reasoning; we downplay our success.
We make excuses, and we have many — family first, among them. And note — reasons are not the same as excuses. But reasons in one set of circumstances can become excuses in another.
Did you get that? Think about it.
The “I need to take care of my family first” reason is legitimate and understandable when kids are seven and ten and even twelve years old; at 14? Can’t they fix their own lunches and dinners if you need to be focused on a pressing project of your own? Are you allowing what was once a valid reason to become an excuse that diverts you from your objectives?
And then there are the old standbys: I’m not good enough; I’m not smart enough; I’m not skilled enough; I’m not pretty enough; I’m not thin enough; I’m not young enough.
At what point can we shoot down these self-defeating statements, even as we give credence to specific cases when they hold some element of truth?
How to Fight Self-Sabotage: Tougher Over 50?
When you realize you’ve become your own worst enemy, how do you fight back against self-sabotage? How do you remove the obstacles you’ve placed in your path, or perceive as insurmountable? When you’re over 50 or over 60, is it harder to battle back against real and imagined obstructions?
Clearly, issues like addiction, depression, and matters of physical health require the expertise of professionals in appropriate fields.
That said, for myself, here are ideas that work for me. Perhaps you will find they hold merit for you as well.
- Proper diet, proper exercise, proper sleep: Often easier said than done, if you are in a position to make improvements in these areas, you are more likely to be kinder to yourself and others.
- Speak your mind: Talk, whether talk therapy or talking to a trusted friend, can provide a critical release valve.
- Do something you love: See art, make art. Listen to music, make music. Get out into nature. Watch nature out your window. These yield perspective, offering moments of peace, reflection, motivation. And, who doesn’t experience a more positive outlook when immersed in a beautiful scene or activity?
- Say no to isolation: Many of us “hibernate” when we’re down, myself included. This encourages brooding (and distortion of reality); engage with people, even if only a few. It really does help.
- Say no to inertia: Taking a hard look inward is one thing; stewing in our own juices, another. Emotional stagnation is crippling; even small steps to improve mood and explore solutions to problems will facilitate your ability to actually solve them.
- Say no to telling yourself “I’m too old to change.” None of us is too old to change, if change is what we’re genuinely after.
- Give to someone else: Nothing puts your challenges in perspective like seeing the difficulties that others are dealing with — and helping.
The Devil on One Shoulder, Angels on the Other?
Those self defeating statements above that are all about “I can’t” and “not enough?” What if we answer each with this: “What’s the worst that can happen? I fail, and then I get up and try again.”
Yes, I believe in giving the devil his due. When the shit hits the fan in our personal and professional lives, it hurts. Worse, it can knock us to the ground, and we stay there for a while. But never trying to get back up is no answer. Despair is a poor model for our children. Self-sabotage is a pointless routine in what may be, for some of us, a lifetime of routine that we never entirely question.
And confidence, which is such a crucial ingredient?
It may not be an easy path, but it can and will come back.
While the devil may reside on one shoulder, and at times, with frightening insistence, I believe equally in the emergence of our better angels, and I remain optimistic that they eventually win out. Our winged whisperers are lighter, more numerous, more diverse; they are delicate, compassionate, and savvy. In my life, they have proven themselves to be unflinchingly determined.
Our angels take the forms they need, sometimes surprising; they never cease to lift the flagging spirit; and they inspire with reflections of who we are at our strongest, our most powerful, our most resolute core, just in time to get out of our own way.
If you would like to share your starting over success story or concerns, or connect with others going through the process, please email here: startingover50plus @ gmail.com.
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