Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to change. Most of the changes were necessary while others were strongly suggested. Some changes stuck and led to positive behavior. Quite a few hung around for a bit but slipped away when I lost interest. As to the strongly suggested ones, well, those depended on whether or not the person who suggested them was still around. I know that I’ve made more changes over the past years than I can list. I’ve probably forgotten many and some are none of anyone’s damned business!
Money, money money:
- Therapy – the best and most important of the lot
- Gym memberships and/or trainers – this includes sneakers, classes and workout clothes $$$ I’ve joined my local park district gym for $25 a month. Nice and cheap.
- Weight Watchers – also worth it but it got pricey
- Joining a synagogue – life changing and worth every penny
The free ones:
- Walking with friends – I miss this one
- Turning all electronics off at 9 pm – this is tough but helps me sleep better
- Cutting down sugar – it about kills me some days but I know it’s good for me
- Quit smoking – 15 years smoke free!
- Learning to play guitar. I do wish that I could take lessons but alas, not right now
The point of this? Some days I don’t give myself enough credit for trying. I sit and whine about how I haven’t achieved anything. I tell myself that I’m a quitter. I bemoan the fact that I’m stuck and can’t change. This partial list reminds me that none of these are true. I can change, I’m not a quitter, I can get unstuck. Sometimes help is costly. Sometimes it’s free. Resources are always available. So even though you may not see the changes or even know that I’m trying, an occasional “You rock” will do me a world of good. I promise to do the same for you.
Self-control: restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions or desires
Struggling to eat healthier and get myself to the gym, prompted thoughts about self-control. Like the road to hell, I begin with good intentions but somewhere along the line, wander off the path. I’m usually good for around two months. Then the inevitable happens. I find myself overdosing on sugary treats and glued to my couch watching endless reruns of Storage Wars. Frustration with my lack of self-control mounts as I brush off the crumbs and search for my sneakers and pray my workout clothes still fit. The cycle begins again. I’m still trying to figure out why I have so much difficulty sticking to my plans. Self-control is easy in other matters. I don’t run annoying drivers off the road even though the temptation is strong. I restrain from snapping at co-workers in the interest of a peaceful workplace. Cheating on my spouse or stealing from a store doesn’t even cross my mind. I quit smoking years ago. The list of the things I don’t do goes on and on. You get the idea. So if I can exercise self-control in these area, why can’t I stick to a simple plan of healthy habits? This led me to this.
Self-will: stubborn or willful adherence to one’s own desires or idea
While bemoaning my lack of self-control, am I really fighting self-will? In truth, I’m the only one who’s surprised when, after two months on the couch stuffing cookies in my mouth, my clothes are tight, energy is low and I feel like crap. I blame my lack of self-control on the weather, mood changes, work load, a full schedule and the like. Notice that all of these are external reasons. I take no responsibility at all. What if, instead of lack of self-control, the underlying reason is self-will. If you listen to me long enough, you’ll hear me talk about my lack of athletic ability, my love of sugar and general laziness. There I am, reinforcing over and over, my perceived failings. If I’ve convinced myself that I’m clumsy, how hard am I going to try to exercise? I’m allowing my addiction to sugar, and believe me it is, to dictate what I eat. Laziness? Well, that’s just the way I am so why try to change it. See the pattern?
Yes, I do realize that self-control and self-will are very different. But if by imposing self-will to give myself an excuse not to take better care of myself, am I forcing myself to abandon self-control? Thoughts to ponder as I once again dig my sneakers out of the back of my closet.
No one is perfect. Practice makes perfection. Confusing, right? On the one hand, we’re told that perfection is beyond our reach. Yet on the other, we’re encouraged to keep at it until it’s perfect. For someone like me, it’s a seriously mixed message. Of course, I understand that the act of being flawless and performing error-free are two different things but my brain has trouble distinguishing between the them.
The stress that I put on myself to never make a mistake is exhausting and quite frankly, unnecessary. I live in fear of making public mistakes. My heart races and stomach clenches. I was raised by a parent who seemed to value performance over effort but as I grow older, I’m not too sure this was true. It’s possible that he thought that I could do better than I was and didn’t know how to encourage me without sounding critical. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s no longer here to ask. I may have internalized the message incorrectly and now suffer the consequences of my own misinterpretation.
That brings me to today. Is it possible for me to change the way I self-flagellate whenever I make a public mistake? Is it possible for me to accept heartfelt compliments even when I’ve not met my own expectations? By being overly self-critical, I rob myself of the opportunity to feel proud of any accomplishment if I perceive it as being less than perfect. I would never berate anyone I love the way I tear myself to shreds when I’m stumble and bumble a bit. Perhaps it’s time to be kinder to myself and learn to enjoy the act of creating and remind myself why I do the things I do in the first place. Enjoyment, a sense of accomplishment and the love of taking on a challenge. A wise friend once told me that when receiving a compliment all I need to say is thank you. Perhaps it’s up to me to silence my internal critic and just revel in the act of doing the things I love.
There was a time when I saw older performers i.e. actors, singers and the like, that I would comment on how well or badly they were aging. I would judge their skin and try to decide whether or not they’ve had work done. It was sort of a game and I did it without thinking. That hair color? Oh no, way too bright and obviously not natural. No one’s skin is that tight at her age. Nope, dressing too young. You get the idea.
Now that I’ve become a woman of a certain age, I find I’m far less critical. I know for a fact how hard it is to fight gravity. Personally, gravity has won and I’m just doing my best to shore body parts up so that I don’t flop around in public. My skin is acting it’s age. It startles me every time I look at the back of my hands and neck. When the hell did this happen? My gray hair elicits different reactions. One is that I’d look younger if I dyed it. Younger than what? The second is that I’m so brave for letting it go natural and did I know that people were paying money to get this color. Brave? Running into a burning building is brave. Coloring your hair gray at thirty seems silly. Just wait a few years and you won’t have to pay for it.
Last year, I turned sixty and it seemed of monumental importance. As this year’s birthday approaches, I’m less concerned about the number of candles and more interested in the kind of cake I’ll get from Weber’s. I’m very fond of lemon, in case anyone is listening. Aging gracefully seems to be a compliment. For those who know me, doing anything gracefully is farfetched. So I’ll aim for aging with joy, pleasure and perhaps peace in my life. Oh, and with a lemon cake, too.
I had always supposed that as I aged that I’d become more focused. From an early age, people ask you what you want to be when you grow up. Kids have no hesitation listing fun and exotic occupations. When my oldest son was around 4 years old, someone asked if he wanted to be a father one day. He adamantly denied it saying he was going to be a mailman instead. He’s not a mailman but he isn’t a father either. That boy knew his mind early on. Once you reach the end of high school, the questions become about your plans. College? Job? Military? Even then, we’re allowed growing room. “Oh, you’re too young to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Take your time.” If you do go to college, the next query is “What’s your major?” At this point, the questions never stop coming. Of course, the inevitable questions about children follow. And so it goes.
I’ve finally reached the point in my life where no one expects me to do anything, well, exciting. That makes it all the more fun when I get the chance to talk about my activities. When asked what I do, meaning as a job, I answer briefly because it’s just an office job. Then I tell them all of my interests. Playwright, composer, performer, storyteller, poet, author, chanter of Torah and so on. I love the look on their faces. Granted, I didn’t do any of these until my fifties and each new one surprises me as much as anyone else. There are times when I wish I concentrated on one thing so that I could become expert at it. I worry that by diversifying my creative energy, I’m somehow shortchanging myself. Happily, I’m enjoying myself and wait with eager anticipation for the next song, story or blog to blossom.
For years, I’ve tossed all of my outgoing personal mail in the tray at work. The postal carrier arrived each day and took it away. Recently, for a period of ten days, I was between jobs. I had to sign and send in a form that couldn’t be done electronically. Nothing complicated. All I wanted to do was mail a letter. An actual honest to God paper envelope with a $.50 stamp on it. Sounds easy, right? Nope. There’s no place in my apartment building lobby to safely leave mail so I started my campaign to find a street corner mail box. I never did find one. Where have they all gone? I live in a very nice suburban neighborhood but the post office is small, quaint and inconvenient. No parking lot, limited street parking and the only way to mail a letter is to go into the building. The last time I went there I was almost run down by a driver looking as their phone as I crossed the street. The only other post office is several miles away. Yes, it has mail boxes you can drive up to and drop letters in from your car but it’s out of my way. In truth, I could have driven back and forth to that post office five times to cover the mileage I put on my car looking for a damned mail box. Imagine my sigh of relief when I started my new job and spotted the outgoing mail tray. As I’ve aged, I’ve become nostalgic for many things. I never imagined that a corner mail box would be one of them. I suppose that I could start a fundraiser for the USPS to bring back those iconic and very necessary receptacles but I suspect that they’ve gone the same way as typewriters and gas station attendants. I will still keep my eyes peeled but by the time I find one, snail mail will be just a faint memory.
The Jewish High Holy Days have passed once again. A time of introspection, prayer and pleading with God to let us have yet another year in this life. I admit that my theology may not be totally sound and my interpretation might be a bit skewed. I love being involved with my synagogue and attend services weekly along with a list of other activities. I do consider myself an active participant and find myself willingly there several times a weeks.
Then the High Holy Days arrive and every year I have the same questions. The big one for me is whether this is all necessary. The musician and lover of Torah in me rejoices in the opportunity to sing and chant Hebrew. But my inner cynic wonders why some people only come around at this time. Does God truly decide our fate – life, death, rich, poor and so on, at this time or is it merely symbolic? Is this why they show up? Is this even something that God decides or is it chance? Oh, how lucky to have won the lottery. Oh, what a shame you’ve lost your house. Great health or sickness and even death. There’s a prayer that even gives multiple choices – earthquake, flood or disease. Quickly, the gate is closing! Yikes! This is pretty grim stuff.
I ponder these questions yearly but like all uncomfortable thoughts, I let them go with a sense of relief once the holidays are over. Especially the little voice that tells me that the prayers at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur don’t change a thing. If this is true, do any of my religious practices matter? Does God care? Do I care? This is a process I’d rather avoid. So this year as I join in communal prayer, I’ll spend time alone with the God of my understanding and ask the hard questions. I may not get any answers. It won’t be easy but I pray in the end it will be worthwhile.
When I graduated college in 1980, I wasn’t thinking about looking for work thirty-eight years later. If I considered it at all, I assumed that I’d be well established in my chosen career, thinking about retirement. If I could go back in time even to twenty years ago, my choices would’ve been entirely different. But they weren’t and here I am.
None of my career plans came to fruition. Started and quit law school. Started and quit graduate school twice. Years of sporadic employment due to marital and health issues have left me where I never wanted to be – searching for yet another clerical job at age sixty. Everyone I interview with is younger than I am. This is to be expected and I’m okay with it. What I’m not okay with is the look on people’s faces when I arrive for the interview. To them, I’m old. Not only am I old but my hair is gray, and I probably remind them of their mother. Many of my friends are starting to retire. I’m so jealous of their choices. They travel while I sit at my desk wishing that I could join them. My husband retired this year and while I’m happy for him, I’m sad for me. Even though I’m fairly energetic, truth be told I’m tired. I’m tired of adapting to the new corporate lingo. I’m tired of being more than a step behind in technology. I especially tired of not being able to pursue my many creative endeavors because by the time I get home at the end of the day, well, I’m tired.
One of the more frightening aspects of the job search is being told that I’d have to wait sixty to ninety days for medical coverage. Do they have any idea how devastating that could be? My health is good but damn it, stuff happens and often out of the blue. Every time I hear this I wish even more fervently that I lived in a country where health care is provided for all. Couple this with the lower hourly wages and I’m going to work until I die. Without a good pension or healthy savings, I can’t see my way to retirement. This is no one’s fault but my own. I made lousy choices. If you had told me that I’d be competing with a thirty-year old for a desk job at sixty, I would have laughed in your face. Not laughing now.
I have years of good solid experience. I show up on time. I work hard. No drama follows me to the office. Perhaps I’ll only work for a company for six or seven more years, but they’ll be good, productive years. I’m not the only one. Consider hiring the older employee. But for God’s sake, pay us what we’re worth and give us health care.
Some days it’s just not easy being the me others expect me to be. I’m pretty cheerful by nature so when I dip into the dark ink that sloshes around inside of me, I tend to keep it to myself. My two closest friends always know but I hide it from the rest of the humans I know and interact with on a a daily basis.
For some reason, I think that I’m never supposed to feel sad or overwhelmed or angry. So many folks I know are dealing with some serious crap. Loss of loved ones, serious illnesses, you name it. My biggest issues today are a pain in my back that hasn’t let up for almost two weeks and struggling with a tough decision. When I compare my stuff with others, I feel guilty for even complaining. On the one hand, it helps me keep things in perspective but on the other, I’m negating my own feelings and thus inviting other people to do the same. The ridiculous part is that they don’t know they’re doing it because I’M KEEPING MY STRUGGLES TO MYSELF!
I don’t know how to change this behavior and I’ve tried. I’m great at giving support but lousy at asking for it. I’ve been labeled a whiner and complainer by less kind people over the years. I’ve accepted these names as my own. So I walk around feeling awful, sure that if I voice it, the negative names become true and apparent to even more people. They will turn from me and I will be alone.
When my sunny mood returns, I will know this to be a falsehood but on this gray and gloomy day, it feels true.
Please don’t ask me to smile today. Maybe tomorrow but not today.
That’s how the human condition has been described.
Easily struck down by disease, weapons and anger.
Hearts break literally and figuratively until we’re curled up in a fetal position on the floor.
Be strong, they exhort us. Stiffen that upper lip. I don’t know about you but it’s usually my lower lip that quivers.
Push through the pain. No pain, no gain. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Only the strong survive.
See the theme?
What about kindness, love, gentleness?
Kill them with kindness. You get more flies with honey than vinegar.
Even good behavior is turned into a competition of sorts.
Here are a few other options.
Fight injustice even if it isn’t happening to you
Let’s blur the lines until we no longer judge each other by color, sex or religion
Love one another always