What I really like at my age: discovering things I would never guess or predict about myself. Experiencing new life trajectories unfold in directions I would have never imagined. Unearthing truths about myself I did not know existed. Finding unexpected plot twists. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable. Changing.
Of course it often doesn’t feel good in the moment. We humans like predictability and ease. We like a plan– a vision of how things are supposed to be– and we cling to this version of our lives. Any deviation feels like failure, or possibly a sign that happily-ever-afters are not meant for us.
There is an anonymous quote I like that says, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”
And we are awfully scared of being wrong, especially about ourselves.
I recently saw an Adam Grant post on Instagram where he wrote, “It’s depressing to ruminate about the doors that closed yesterday. It’s liberating to look for the doors that are open today. You can’t change who you’ve been. It’s never too late to choose who you want to become. Identity is a decision, not a destination.”
He included a picture of the past vs. the future. In the past, it begins with the starting point of when you were born, and there is only a narrow path available to you. The other life paths are closed. In the future, it begins with the starting point of your life today, and all life paths are open. The opportunities are unlimited. You can go in any direction, pursuing whatever you want.
I really like this. It’s a way of reprogramming how we see the world. Instead of ruminating over what we can’t change, we can work with what we’ve got and leverage that potential.
It’s a way of responding creatively to any given situation, taking a different approach to the challenges we inevitably face instead of getting bogged down in what we can not control or what has already happened. This conditions our minds to be open to new possibilities. It helps us live creatively.
I think that this takes a lot of courage. Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” To respond creatively means to take chances on what to pursue and what to let go. It means stretching beyond your comfort zone, adapting, embracing originality, messing up, using your imagination, recognizing opportunity, and being able to see what has not been done before. It’s trial and error, growth, and looking at the world through multiple lenses.
Nobody ever told you this, but you were tasked at birth to forge a path that is uniquely your own. Eventually you realized that you had been thrust into this game of life with no directions and that it would never be an even playing field. But have you ever thought of your life as a unique masterpiece? In lieu of being given a roadmap, responding creatively seems like the best option we have to maximize the joy and fulfillment we experience in our journeys. In fact, it is what makes you beautiful.
Sadly part of the journey is closing chapters. Turning into new directions. Continuing on without others. This is inevitable.
Goodbyes are hard. A week after my 40th birthday, my grandma passed away at the phenomenal age of 97. She was a few months away from 98. At our last visit– a week before she passed– she tried so hard to sit up in her wheelchair and talk to us through the pain of being trapped in a body that had exceeded its expiration date. Her wrinkled hands had skin almost melting off the bones, and she grimaced through pain while trying to talk to us in slurred words. I wonder if Grandma knew that was the last conversation we would have.
It was her time. Still, it’s a chapter closed, an era that is over, and that has an existential impact on a person. She lived two hours away, and I visited her almost every month for the past 23 years. Today I caught myself looking at my calendar, thinking it was time to schedule a visit. I don’t know how many times I visited her in the last few years wondering if that was the last time I’d make the drive and see her sitting in her chair with the Reader’s Digest next to her. I try to be realistic about life.
And I’m getting fairly good at the grief thing. The kids and I made a small butterfly garden in the backyard and I got a wind chime with a quote about loved ones being in our hearts. We went on a hike during one of our bereavement days and chanted at the top of the hill with a clear view of the ocean. It was a warm and sunny spring day with flowers in bloom scattered across the hillside. The perfect day to start a new chapter. At home, I looked through pictures from the past several years, lingering on the one from six years ago. It was three days before my husband passed, and the only trace of him in the pictures are his hands. I had not known then that I should have made him a focal point in these pictures. That our time was limited. That one day I’d want more pictures of him. I remember he had been doing magic tricks for Grandma during that visit. Our kids were tiny then: 6, 3, and 1. Grandma was not the skin-and-bones version of herself, but plump and smiley, slicing a piece of lemon cake I brought from the grocery store.
Now as our spring break wraps up, I see the final descent before me as we slide into summer. The seasons are ephemeral, but we would be bored if they weren’t, wouldn’t we? There is always something to look forward to. This past week: tucking dried sunflower seeds from last summer into the ground and waiting to see what emerges. Fishing with family. Watching my daughter play softball. An annual trip to one of our favorite museums and watching how different the experience is each time as the children grow. It’s going too fast. I want to remember everything. One day these will be the memories I reach for, days I can never recreate.
I saw Hamilton with a lovely guy. I met a guy. We actually met five years ago and didn’t like each other. We’d see each other at an annual party hosted by mutual friends and would literally ignore the other person’s existence. That’s how much we didn’t like each other. I didn’t expect in a million years for him to text me after the party. I wasn’t even looking for that kind of thing.
Rose Wilder Lane said, “Happiness is something that comes into our lives through doors we don’t even remember leaving open.”
I spent a good two months after our second first date looking for every reason to still not like him. I methodically ran every possible detail under the scrutiny of my filters hoping to find an obvious reason to run in the opposite direction.
But it hasn’t worked.
I was wrong about him.
After I admitted that to myself, I’ve spent the last month enjoying this doorway. The nice thing about meeting someone at my age is having enough experience to just enjoy the moment as it is.
I’m glad I was wrong. I’m glad another thing surprised me in life. I need reminders that I don’t have it all figured out.
Today at my temple, someone shared her experience with me of losing her husband many years ago when her children were young. The loss set off a series of events and experiences, and she said, “We wouldn’t be who we are today if it hadn’t happened.”
I’ve thought that many times. I wouldn’t have this or that. I wouldn’t have chosen this or that. I wouldn’t have grown as a person. I wouldn’t have met that person. My life today has moved in a completely different trajectory. I don’t want to be the person I was before.
Of course you don’t wish for death and closed doors, but it does seem more productive to focus on what is going well in life. What can you do with what you have right now? It’s not about the paths that were closed to you in the past, as Adam Grant pointed out. It’s about all of the amazing things you can still experience right now and moving forward. Isn’t that exciting? It is for me.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know I am fascinated by what a closed door does to us, and how many doors are still out there waiting to be explored.
These are the exciting bits of intrigue that keep us waiting for more.
This was lovely. Your essays always make me think. We lost my son-in-law just a couple months after you lost your husband and somehow I found you then. My own husband died just two years ago. life is full of changes.
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Sorry for the loss of your Grandmother. How lucky she was to have a Granddaughter as devoted as you.
As always, your stories are thought provoking and relatable.
I really like that quote you from Adam Grant:
“You can’t change who you’ve been. It’s never too late to choose who you want to become. Identity is a decision, not a destination.”
I’m going to print that one out and put it up on my wall so I can see it every day. Thanks for the inspiration!
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