“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” — Henry David Thoreau
Aging can be a pain, not only because of the actual physical pains and changes we experience, but also because of the emotional impact that aging can have on us. And by “us,” of course, I mean “me.” I’m feeling the emotional impact of aging. But it’s not necessarily what you might think. More than anything, I feel gratitude.
The third act
I’m in what Jane Fonda calls the “third act.” In other words, on life’s stage, the final curtain is next. By the time we enter our third act, we’re reckoning with many things. We are facing what we’ve done or not done to ourselves physically; what we have and have not created within ourselves; and what most of our legacy is and isn’t. Some people do extraordinary and unexpected things in their third act—I’m doing things I never thought I would do, and while I’m not sure they’re extraordinary, I am proud of them. But the fact remains that most of our work is behind us and we have a pretty good sense of how we’ve turned out as a person. The third act invites us to take a hard look in the mirror.
How do we react to that? Does my heart sink when I see what I’ve created and I think about the ballerina I wasn’t, the opera singer I never became, the famous painter I didn’t develop into? Do I compare myself with other third-acters and find myself lacking in looks, in wealth, in achievements? Do I have more regrets than joys?
The fact is that all of this reckoning does feel difficult, and yet for me the joys of aging—what some prefer to call sage-ing, as we grow into what we hope are our wisest years—are even greater than its challenges. I feel free in a way I never have before.
Older people have a reputation for unvarnished opinions, stark observations that make them less politically correct, and for difficult or ornery behaviour. It’s as if some older folks feel there isn’t enough time left so they’re just going to cut right to the chase. In the last years of her life, my mother’s opinions would just bubble out of her. She was a compassionate and wonderful person and yet when she opened her mouth, out flew her truth. It was shocking sometimes, but the discomfort we felt came from how very true and real she was.
We say the truth sets us free, and freedom is the joy of aging. But in our culture, which refuses to acknowledge the truth of aging, decay, and death, we also delay that freedom that comes with not caring about things that really are not that important.
I’m beginning to feel that freedom. I feel free from the tyranny of wanting to please everyone around me. I’m feeling free from the self-doubt of my younger years. When I know something, I know that I know it; I’m don’t try to justify my expertise anymore. What I say is based on a multitude of experiences and many years to mull them over.
I’m learning confidence, freedom from fear and doubt, and the fact that I can’t possibly ever know it all has become even more evident. The more confident I am in what I do know, the more I realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface of many topics. It’s so freeing to admit what I don’t know rather than be so worried that I should already know everything.
I also feel free in terms of my creativity—like it’s been liberated. In fact, there are new studies showing that contrary to the adage stating that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks, for some of us, our most brilliant and creative work will be done in our third act. It certainly feels true for me.
Along with all this freedom and self-knowledge has come a sense of urgency. I have no idea how much time I have left on this planet, and I realize I have to speed up my work if I’m going to do the things I really want to do. For some people, this urgency creates anguish. I have an old friend who’s sixteen years older than me who wakes up in a sweat at night worrying about how he is going to die soon; he feels paralyzed by it. For me, I just feel like I need to work smarter so I can accomplish everything I hope to before my time runs out.
Having faced so much of it recently, death itself doesn’t scare me like it once did. I’ve seen it act as a liberation for people in pain. So instead of focusing on the looming final curtain, I’m just squinting at what’s left of life’s stage and figuring out how I can fill it most effectively!
That means, of course, saying no to the things that are wrong for me as much as it means saying yes that are right. Saying no is just as urgent a task as saying yes—we need to get serious about how we spend our time before our story comes to a close!
I also think aging reinforces the importance of connecting and reconnecting with people who matter. I suffer fools less and less gladly, and I want to call and connect with the people I love. It’s not always easy—I’m an introvert and my job demands that I be surrounded by other people during days packed to the brim; the last thing I want to do when I get home is talk more! But it’s worth it. As you age, you watch many people you know depart this planet, so it’s important to connect with the ones who are still here, and share real, meaningful conversations with them.
My invitation—indeed, the very invitation of aging, no matter where you are along your timeline—is to take a good look at yourself, your creations, your legacy. Take a deep breath as you review everything you’ve done, sculpted, and made happen in your life. Own it all, embrace it. I’m reckoning with my life and saying here it is, this is me: my body, my business, my creations, my network, my friends, my family. The good, the bad and the ugly. We can be compassionate towards ourselves for what we have made of our lives so far.
Then we can choose what we want to be and do next, with our next breath and the breath after that. We can keep reinventing ourselves until our last breath, keep giving thanks for being alive, keep fully experiencing the human condition.
Aging is a blessing, curse, and privilege rolled into one, and it is undeniably precious. I am so grateful for my six decades and however many more years I have before me. So how can we fill this time in the best possible way? How can we fill every inch of ourselves, our spirit, our mind, our emotions, our body? That’s the challenge aging, sage-ing, presents to us. And I take up that challenge joyfully.
Today, and every day, I am planting both feet on the ground on this beautiful planet, and saying “I’m still here; thank you so much.”
If you need help rephrasing your ifs and whens to hows and whats, a coach can help. Find out how you can work with me by clicking on the link below. https://dominiquedennery.com/work-with-dominique/