We talk about the wisdom that comes with age, but sometimes the wisest thing we could do is allow ourselves to be mentored by younger people.
All posts in category Sleepwalking Through Life
Posted by Lynne Spreen on August 11, 2013
I first wrote this post for Heather Black Wood’s blog From Shadow to Seen. Per Heather, FSTS is “a project created by two women who were inspired to develop a venue that would encourage other women to share their short memoirs, poetry or original artwork with the world, thereby emerging from the shadows to be seen.” There’s more about FSTS at the end of the post.
By the time you get old, you will have been disillusioned many times. This can be a good thing. To illustrate from my own experience:
In my twenties, I was proud to call myself a perfectionist. One day my boss, smiling sadly, told me perfectionists fear criticism. The words rang true and he knew it. Humiliated, I slunk back to my desk.
But there were bigger lessons ahead.
I could always work with difficult people. They saw something in me, and nobody else would put up with them. Sure, it took a lot of time, so I had to bring work home because I fell behind at the office, but I felt good about myself. I felt special. Important. Years later, a therapist said I tolerated those people because I was trying to replicate my unsatisfactory relationship with my tyrannical and violent father. Normal people, said the shrink, wouldn’t put up with that treatment because they have good boundaries. They value their time. You don’t.
In my late thirties, I married a guy who was underemployed but I figured things would improve. Wrong. He was jobless for years, always with some excuse. He placated me by doing the laundry and making dinner, and telling me I was pretty and talented. Later I found out he was selling drugs and screwing other women during the day while I was at the office. When we had our last fight, he said he’d married me because he deserved not to have to work. “I earned you,” he said.
Filled with grief and feeling like a complete failure (and idiot), I divorced him. I still didn’t understand what I missed. Then I read the book The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. She said sociopaths target people who are mindlessly, hopelessly helpful. The ones who do it without thinking about it much.
Okay. That helped.
Finally, I see the light
Then I married a man who showed me you could be a good person without being a doormat. I realized part of the reason I had always rescued everybody was because it fed my ego to do so. I never asked myself if people were as good to me as I was to them, or why I was sacrificing myself for others without any reciprocity. I realized helping people gave me a sense of importance.
So in my mid-forties, I finally rejected the self-serving role of hero. Now, at fifty-nine, I’m an average Jane and that’s okay. Although my history is a bit grim, there may be parallels for your life.
If you often feel drained by other people, here’s a tip: when you’re asked to help or sacrifice, take a little chance, not an irrevocable commitment. Then look for reciprocity – time, effort, career help, etc. The next time they ask, respond accordingly.
I understand there’s a bit of risk in this approach. Not everything comes out evenly, and compassion is good. Also, the plan gets a little wobbly when you’re dealing with children or young people because they’re not fully formed. I cut them more slack than mature adults. Bottom line? Know why you’re doing something; dig deep.
You are every bit as precious as the next human. Treasure yourself.
That is what disillusionment taught me.
From Shadow To Seen seeks to engage and encourage participation in ways that inspire and promote artistic expression, understanding, and empathy. As we allow ourselves to participate and share our stories or works, it may move us forward—building a platform for exchange, enlightenment and hope. We hope the exchange will provide a quiet place where women may release a shadow and find themselves moving toward a more accepting light—emerging with a new found energy.
Posted by Lynne Spreen on June 14, 2013
As we get older, we face a lot of challenges. Our looks change, our strength wanes, we lose loved ones, and we’re minimized by society. We try to celebrate the good and stay positive, but so much about getting older is difficult, and there’s not a darned thing you can do about it.
“The one thing that is up to you is whether you will see getting old as a tragedy, or embark upon it as another of life’s great adventures.”
What an empowering statement. I borrowed it from Dr. Carol Orsborn’s new book, Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. For a more complete review, see the lower right margin of your screen. I first learned about Carol Orsborn’s point of view when I read this wonderful post. In it, she says, “What a waste of the human potential it is to define successful aging — or life, for that matter — in youth-centric terms of productivity, activity and vigor.” She goes on.
…those of us who can grow large enough to embrace the dark side of aging can organically have what the Eastern traditions call an “awakening.” We don’t need books to help us understand the transitory nature of life. We’re living it.
I love her idea that we’re on a path to enlightenment as we age. It’s such a positive way of looking at things.
Contrast that with the discouraging tone in Susan Jacoby’s Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. I wrote about it here. Yes, there’s some truth to what Jacoby says, like why would you become wise in old age if you’ve been average-to-stupid all your life.
The two authors view old age through different perspectives. If I were dealing with grief, ill health, or other horrific negatives, for example, that could change my perspective. I regret to say that, around the time she wrote her book, Susan Jacoby was caring for a loved one during a lingering illness.
In exercising choice, I decided to stop playing the youth game. Oh, sure, I tried it. I got Botox a few times, and once I even did filler in my lip area to try to combat the deepening purse-string effect. But I felt like a fraud. Plus those needles hurt. Did you know before they give you filler the doctor comes at you with one of those painkiller needles they use at the dentist? The ones that look like they are meant for horses? But I digress.
Back to the idea of choice in older age: it’s a rich new phase we’re in, Second-Halfers. You can change your perspective and decide how you want to see things. Look closely: the lock on your jail cell is rusting. If you give the door a push, you might be able to break free, scamper down the hall and out the door into the sunlight.
Posted by Lynne Spreen on April 26, 2013
Got your coffee? Here’s the “news” from Salon.com:
WOMEN OVER 50 ARE INVISIBLE
Rampant ageism and sexism have left women of a certain age virtually powerless in American society
Virtually powerless? Holy crap. I had no idea we were in this much trouble.
But first, great news!
I tweeted about the above article, and Jane Friedman responded. We’d met briefly before, when she was at Writer’s Digest Magazine. Jane is now a top editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, and a renowned publishing and media expert.
Turns out, she was bugged by this, too. We agreed to do a tandem blog – she would address the under-fifty perspective, and I – since today is my 59th birthday – the over-fifty. I know you’ll find her POV extremely interesting. Mine will probably be better, because I’m older, but as soon as the whippersnapper gets a few more wrinkles, she’ll be all right.
Okay, back to the article. The author, Tira Harpaz, is an accomplished woman. Yet, she feels invisible, and thinks we are, too. Her comments below describe the pain she’s feeling.
- “It hits you in areas where you feel most vulnerable–a loss of attractiveness and sex appeal, the end of fertility, a glimpse of a slow, lingering decline.”
- “People I met at parties would look slightly disappointed and then look past me, and gradually, I began to shrink inside.”
- “As I eased into the row, the 30-something man sitting in the window seat glanced up at me. It was a brief glance, but it conveyed disappointment and complete disinterest.”
- “When the radiologist no longer asks if there’s any chance you’re pregnant. When the cashier at the movie theater, glancing indifferently at your gray roots, suggests you might want the senior discount, years before you might qualify. When people in the subway don’t really look at you as they politely offer you a seat.”
As much as I disagree with Harpaz, she’s not alone. You’ve heard it yourself. Maybe even felt it. However, today, I’m going to suggest an alternate explanation, one that might set you free. Sort of.
I think invisibility isn’t about age. It’s about gender. It’s about being female.
Let me make my argument. From the time we’re old enough to raise our hands in a classroom, we’re ignored in favor of the boys (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998). While boys often speak out of turn and assert themselves, little girls sit back, waiting for the teacher to call on them.
Per Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, school children were asked to perform a small task and then pay themselves what they thought they deserved. (First graders were asked to award themselves Hershey’s Kisses.) In first, fourth, seventh and tenth grades, girls consistently paid themselves 30% – 78% less than boys.
In her new book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg laments how young, professional women discount themselves, from second-guessing their readiness for promotion to declining an offer to sit at the table with the decision-makers.
And then that goes away.
Whether it’s gender or age, women can change the culture, and they can start today. For more on this, read the excellent In the Company of Women – Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop, by Drs. Pat Heim and Susan Murphy. They cite research showing that women hang back, out of fear that other women will punish them if they act like they’re special. The authors call this the Power Dead-Even Rule, and it’s pretty chilling. You can read a summary of the most important points here.
We older women should model powerful behavior for our girls, and encourage them as if their futures depended on it. If I were counseling younger women, I’d say stop waiting for an invitation. Grab the reins and demonstrate your presence. Older women: You were raised to be nice, and to put others first. Are you still waiting for permission to live? Stop right now. Take off your shoes and walk on the lawn.
Finally, all of us need to support, rather than snipe at, powerful, amazing, barrier-busting women.
Sexism exists. So does ageism. (For proof, reread Ms. Harpaz’ statements, above). But if you feel as I do, you might agree that invisibility is a choice. And as for me? I choose to resist.
What do you think? Is this invisibility real, and if so, do you think it’s because of gender or age? Let me hear from you.
PS: Blogging with Jane is the best birthday present ever! Be sure to check out her post here.
Posted by Lynne Spreen on April 12, 2013
Several years ago, a friend and I were talking about what we would do after we “retired.” I wanted to start a new career writing, teaching part-time, doing public speaking gigs, and blogging. She wanted to start a preschool! After decades at our corporate jobs, this was how we viewed retirement.
I was reminded of our conversation as I read the excellent book Retiring but not Shy, by Ellen Cole and Mary Gergen. The book is a collection of essays by women psychologists on the subject of their own retirement. Although some essays were by women who retired a while back, the ones I found most troubling were by those who were either considering retirement or had recently retired.
Like my friend and I, these bright, well-educated women had laundry lists of all the incredible new tasks and initiatives they would undertake. Retirement meant converting from busy/busy to busy/busy. Beyond financial security, many seemed afraid that giving up their jobs meant they would no longer “matter.” These stellar professionals, some of minority ethnicity, feared being marginalized by society after retirement.
Especially for us feminists, it’s hard to imagine walking away from the battlefield. We struggled against the social tide for those degrees, titles, professions and salaries. The achievement of professional stature became our our identity, our source of power, our protective shield.
When I gave up my profession, I didn’t feel special anymore, and looking back, this was where my post-retirement life got interesting. I found myself tackling some heavy questions.
- Did I have value to society without my work? Does anybody?
- Did I fear a judgment I’d attached to others who didn’t work? (As a society, this question has implications with elders as well as stay-at-home parents.)
- Would I ever have the confidence not to work? To give up positional power? To still see myself as special, even without the hard-won mantle of office?
Ultimately, the greatest triumph of my sixth decade was gaining a sense of self-worth exclusive of my profession. To value myself without the suit and heels meant I had to view the rest of society in a more forgiving way. to look beyond the uniform and titles – or lack thereof.
In the book, one of the writers asks: if work equates to feminism and independence, to what does retirement equate?
I have come to see retirement as a time of enlightenment and the letting go of ego.
One writer says “I believe that even in retirement women must contribute to make a difference, to be perceived as powerful and to have power.” But powerful in whose estimation? We cannot make society respect us – we can only respect ourselves. And as for feminist battles, can’t we just model feminist principles as we putter in the yard, go to church, or help out down at the shelter? Why do we need to start a new national/international effort toward whatsis?
Will we ever accept that we are good enough?
Posted by Lynne Spreen on April 5, 2013