Today is my 44th birthday, and assuming that I live into my late-80s, I've reached mid-life, but I find myself, surprisingly, not in crisis. Instead, I've reached an age of competence, confidence, and if one can say it about herself, courage.
I believe the secret to my success has been lowering my expectations and giving up on some goals and dreams.
I know what you're thinking.
Let me explain.
For years I set goals and made promises to myself (and others) I had absolutely no chance of keeping.
- "I will lose 40 lbs in the next 3 months and ride the entire Slick Rock Trail in Moab!"
- "I will start a blog and publish it every single day!"
- "I'm going to own a mint condition 1967 Camaro by the time I'm 40!"
- "I will keep a diary and write in it every day, without fail. My handwriting will be beautiful and I will fill every page with brilliant, poignant thoughts. I will finish each blank book before even thinking about starting a new one."
- "I'm will set a beautiful Shabbat table and bake challah from scratch every Friday."
- "I'm will study the Torah portion and the Haftarah every week and never get bored and skip verses, even the "begats".
- "I'm going to be more social and host dinners and game nights at my house and have people over spontaneously to just hang out."
- "I'm going to quit Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and only read literary fiction and never binge-watch stupid Netflix shows again."
It doesn't take an expert life coach like Yoda to see that I was setting myself up for failure over and over again. I didn't allow for progressive success, and it's almost as if I were setting goals for the person I wanted to be, not the person I am at my core. That list up there isn't really a set of goals and aspirations, it's a checklist of what I thought made a successful, ideal person: athletic, musical, social, cool, diligent, studious, accomplished... perfect. I am some of those things, but I am not and will not ever be all of them.
That recognition and acknowledgment has had some huge side-effects.
I do not envy.
Every single person out there has a quality I don't, an ability I don't, money I don't, or a talent I will not develop. So what? I've stopped making self-centered, self-focused comparisons in which I always come out the loser. I try not to say: I'll never be able to do that like her and feel like a failure. Instead, I've learned to say: I'll never be able to do that as well as she does, but I am so damn lucky to be in the presence of someone who has those talents, and Wow! Let's celebrate this together!
I give myself breaks.
I let myself do things that are not goal-oriented or even purposeful. Confession: I love staying in bed until mid-day on weekends and reading, listening to NPR, snuggling with my cat, and reorganizing my shelves. I no longer feel guilty that I'm not on a hike or at the gym or grocery shopping. I sink in, recharge myself, and feel no shame.
I give other people breaks.
Especially my kids. They're the biggest teachers I've had in this journey to "Okayness." Watching them crash and push and sink into their own natural talents and abilities has made me much more generous with myself. I know that my son, for example, shares my introvertedness and needs time alone to recharge himself and deal with the world. As he has grown old enough to say, "Mom, I want to be alone!" I've grown wise enough not to push too hard against that boundary.
I ask for help.
This is a work in progress, but one thing about not having all the talents yourself is that you can ask people with those talents to help you out. Just being able to say, "You're good at this and I suck at this, can you help me?" is a great accomplishment for me. It recognizes the talent in others (easy), reveals my own lack of a skill (difficult), and gets the goal accomplished. Asking a friend to help me make phone calls and plan a social gathering, for example, has always been painful because I'd never want anyone to ask me to do that. But that's not how this work. Me asking a friend to make some phone calls is like him asking me to edit a resume. I'm happy to do it.
Some people are happy making calls... who knew?
I like what I like, without apologies.
Earlier this year I had a conversation with a friend that went like this.
Me: I really like Ms. So-and-So. She's one of my favorite people.
Friend: Yeah, I don't much care for her.
Me: Hmm. Yeah, um, maybe you're right...
Friend: You can still like her, you know.
Since that conversation I've taken the time to ask myself, "Do I like this because I like it, or because someone else likes it and I want them to think I'm cool and want to fit in?" If it's the latter, it's time to reconsider.
What I almost wrote to end this piece: "You'd think I would have figured all of this out much earlier in life."
But I'm going to be more generous with myself and end this way instead:
It's OK that I didn't figure all of this out before the age of 44. Life only goes forward, and I'm ready to kick some ass in the second half.