In his book With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life, Ken Dychtwald describes life as a “caterpillar becoming a butterfly.” Don’t you love that image?
Too often, we spend so much time looking in the rearview mirror of our lives at what was, that we are unable to celebrate our today, or to appreciate the future. As Joan Chittister reminds us in The Gift of Years, “One of the obstacles to leading an exciting life in our later years is that we become so sure we are losing something and so unaware of what we are gaining.”
Of course, being a Pollyanna about aging is no more useful than dwelling on loss. What is helpful in taking our own aging journey is to focus on the present. Here are five reminders to help you do this:
Attend to life as it is. We cannot undo our present; we can choose to embrace the now. Sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, humility, patience, and resilience as being critical in navigating the chaos and complexity of our new learning. While important in our third chapter, in truth, these are essential in all stages of life. Without resilience, how would we have passed through job losses, survived ending relationships, or had the courage to start over when we didn’t think it possible?
Accept who I am right now. The second half of life has been described as a time when we experience the freedom to become ourselves. Although we may be disenchanted with some of life’s changes, most of us would not want to return to an earlier age or stage of life. For many of us, the freedom to do and be what we want is a gift that may arrive later in life.
Affect positive feelings through purpose. Engaging in one’s life’s passion brings an abundance of positive feelings. As James Hillman wrote in The Soul’s Code, “Whether recognized or actualized, all humans have an exceptional component to their lives.” Research psychologist and author Martin Seligman explains that lasting happiness requires us to find our core strengths and figure out how to deploy them. It is not too late to find a sense of purpose and fulfillment that makes us glad to get up in the morning.
Accept help. Although receiving help is difficult for many of us, an offer of help is truly a gift— and one to be accepted in that spirit. Without the help of friends, I would not have made it through some rough times in the past, and I suspect this is true for most of us.
Appreciate who and where you are. “The secret to aging well is developing the capacity to be grateful and to forgive,” says Robert Weber in The Spirituality of Age. Equally important, but more difficult, is to name and appreciate the gifts that we give to others.
Choosing to live in the now is not always easy, but it is not impossible. Which reminders will you embrace?
Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.