Artful Aging

Ten Ideas I’m Glad to Let Go Of

Letting go as we age can bring a host of emotions. When I lose a friend, I feel sad. But I feel confronted when I’m forced to give up the backpack that has sat unused in the attic for the past 30 years. Am I ready to admit that my days of backcountry hiking are over? Sometimes, letting go can bring joy and freedom when I chuck ideas I would never have chosen anyway. Here are 10 that I’m ready to leave behind:

  1. Saying “Sorry.” This might be a woman thing, but I’m so done with offering apologies to jerks who inconvenience me. The word “sorry” can still work for heartfelt apologies and showing compassion, as in “I’m so sorry for your loss.” But no more knee-jerk sorrys to the dude who ran into me while crossing the street texting, or the bicyclist who practically knocked me over while riding in the walkers-only lane.

  2. Self-judgment. This is one of the GREAT gifts of getting older. We’ve all been given a free pass with the words “there are no shoulds” on one side and “you’re doing the best you can” on the other. My skin may be sagging but my self-confidence has gotten a boost. I can do less, walk at my own pace, and occasionally forget a birthday. Perfection is not a requirement for happy aging, and I can still grow without critiquing myself for every blooper. Eliminating negative self-talk takes some practice, but it’s worth the effort!

  3. Entitlement. I am letting go of this one because 1) It’s incredibly ugly and 2) It’s so last century. Entitlement means believing that my people are better than yours—and that the world needs to arrange itself to fit my needs. The world never signed on for this, and life becomes richer when I stop believing that things should “go my way.” Without the burden of entitlement, I can explore and enjoy the world as it is.

  4. Waiting to dance. I used to hold back before stepping onto an empty public dance floor. I didn’t want to look “conspicuous.” But at age 71, I ask myself, why not? Do I think things will be more conducive to my self-expression next year? Or that my butt will be slimmer? Both are unlikely. If I want to dance—and I do—I have to stop waiting or trying to hide. As I think about it, I’m also letting go of hiding.

  5. Enlightenment. I know the word sounds noble, but in my book, it’s a distraction. It assumes there’s some higher place I need to get to. I, on the other hand, am more interested in conserving my energy and enjoying being here. It’s time to smell the dandelions, the spring mud, and my horse’s poop. Plus, I often confuse “achieving enlightenment” with “fixing myself”—the next thing on my list of ideas I’m ready to ditch.

  6. Fixing myself. I am done with this, even after spending a minor fortune trying to improve myself through therapy, personal growth seminars, spiritual retreats, and tons of self-help books. Granted, fixing myself is an addiction that may always tempt me. But here’s the truth: I can only fix myself if I’m broken (not true) or believe there’s a gold standard for being human. I can still attend to my well-being, think good thoughts, eat kale, and spend plenty of hours in front of my lightbox in winter. But I will never be fixed. Consider me a work-in-progress.

  7. Matching earrings. Letting go of self-judgment has opened up creative possibilities for what I can do with the stuff in my closet. I don’t have to feel guilty for preferring comfort clothes (thank you, pandemic). And there’s no rule I know that says things (clothes, jewelry, accessories) have to match. I’m saving money by putting pairs of orphan earrings together. Just don’t call me “uncoordinated.” Call me “artistically inclined.”

  8. Having to remember things. I still want to remember words, people, and where I put the bus schedule, but I’m letting go of having to remember stuff and then judging myself for forgetting. I’m also letting go of assuming that I will remember, even though, invariably, I won’t. I’ve started a new hobby called “making lists.” Now, if I could just remember where I put them.

  9. The words “nice” and “fine. Words are precious. Why waste them on ones that are meaningless? A lot of the world is not nice right now, thank you very much, so why not acknowledge this fact? And saying “I’m fine” is a way of smoothing things over and avoiding deep conversations. I want my remaining interactions to be raw and real and to let my friends know that I’m both great and sad, confident and anxious. “Both/and” is my expression of the year—as a human, I have the right to be complex.

  10. High standards. The poet William Stafford, when asked how he managed to write a poem a day, is reported to have answered, “I lower my standards.” Why am I holding myself back when all the world’s a stage and there are so many ways to play? Often, it’s because of my fear of not doing things right, not being good enough, or not clearing the high bar that I myself put in place. It’s time to let all of that go. Aging is my official permission to experiment, explore and screw up— then play some more.

This list of ideas I’m letting go could go on, but I think that’s enough. I hope it inspires you. By the way, “enough” is a great concept and one I think we all should keep.

Sally Fox, Ph.D., is a life transitions and creativity coach and author of Meeting the Muse after Midlife: a journey to joy through creative expression, to be published in summer 2023. Find her blog and podcast at

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