I found a little of my nerve in a grocery store parking lot recently. It surfaced after I saw a big, black dog locked inside a car on an 80-some degree day. Now, I say I found “a little” nerve because in hindsight I should have taken more drastic action to rescue the animal. I should have asked the store to page “the ignorant lady who locked her dog in the hot car with license plate XXXX”. Or, I should have called the police. But as it was, I merely pulled out my notepad and stuck a note of reprehension under her car’s back windshield.
While perhaps a meek attempt at scolding, leaving that note was out of character for me. At least, it was for the younger me. But as I grow older, I’m finding I have less and less energy to bury frustrations or extend false sentiments. Reflecting on what I did, it brought to mind a restaurant experience I had with my mother during her later years in life. Since we’re not mincing words here, let’s just say she cut the waitress off at her knees with some critical, yet truthful, statements. In response to the look of horror on my face, she simply said, “What?! I’m old.” My response? “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want.”
But after this parking lot incident, I realize I was wrong. You CAN say whatever you want when you’re older. In fact, you can say whatever you want no matter your age. I just think it happens more so as we grow older because we’ve grown in wisdom and finally understand that we don’t need the permission of others to do or say anything at all.
So, following are some of my thoughts that have found a voice as a result of me growing older:
Younger Me: “Don’t burn bridges.”
Me Today: “Now THAT’S a fire!”
Some bridges should be burned. They prevent you from turning back and can light the way to something better. I wasn’t very old when I became aware I had changed my way of thinking about burning bridges. I remember leaving a past employer and speaking very bluntly in my exit interview about the reasons for my departure. I felt the way business was conducted was unethical. And I said it. When I told friends what I had shared with Human Resources, my comments were met with gasps. But what I explained to them and believe to this day is that anyone who would not hire me in the future because of what I said to this past employer isn’t anyone I would want to work for anyway. I would not want to work for a person or company that condoned or supported business operating in the same manner.
Younger Me: What can I do to make him/her happy?
Me Today: I am not responsible for other people’s happiness. (Nor are they responsible for mine)
It’s not that I don’t want people to be happy. I just finally realized it wasn’t my job to make them so. For example, for years I felt it was my responsibility to keep our family connected thinking it would keep my parents happy. I tried keeping people in the loop through email and set up Skype and Facetime sessions so we could share the holidays with distant out-of-town family members. However, the gap continued to grow and the less successful I was in keeping everyone close, the more pressure and guilty I felt. Then it finally occurred to me that whether or not family members wanted to stay close to each other was up to them. They had phones. They had email. Their fingers worked just as well as mine. If staying in touch was really what made them happy, they would do it themselves. So I resigned what I thought was my job to keep others happy and felt a huge sense of relief. I have no regrets about that.
Younger Me: “It’s okay. That’s just the way he/she is.”
Me Today: “Yeah, I’m not okay with that.”
I used to dismiss or laugh off inconsiderate behavior or hurtful comments made by friends and family as just flaws in character. “Oh well, that’s just her,” I would say. I accepted or overlooked mistreatment or disrespect because after all, we all have flaws. But the last people who should be inconsiderate of your feelings or unsupportive are the people who truly care about you. I’m not saying they have to be your constant cheerleader. Some of the people who love me the most are the ones who challenge me. But whether friends or family, if what they say or do isn’t done with love or the intention of helping you become a better person, then perhaps it’s best to keep a distance.
Younger Me: “Sure, no problem!”
Me Today: “Um, that’s not gonna happen.”
It’s a hot topic in today’s advice columns that women are being encouraged to say “no.” No, you don’t have to volunteer for the PTA, organize the church bake sale, and serve as “team mom” for your son’s soccer season. But I’m not talking about overpromising or overcommitting to others. This is about saying “no” to myself. More often than not, the only person placing pressure on me to exceed normal expectations is me. Instead, I’ve learned to accept my limitations. That’s right, despite watching Oprah’s Master Classes, I’m admitting I have limitations. I don’t say that in the sense of feeling defeated. Rather, recognizing my limitations is freeing. There’s no pretending that I can be all things to all people to prove myself to anyone. I feel empowered, rather than embarrassed, to say “no, I won’t be able to do that.” Funny thing is, despite my younger self’s concern that a response like that would show weakness, when I’ve said it, people often see the honesty as a sign of strength.
Younger Me: “I shoulda______.”
Me Today: “It is what it is.”
I’m still working on this one. There are times I regress to my younger self. I’m one of those people who can go to bed and replay the entire day in my head. I play back what I said and what I didn’t say. I also spend too much time scripting conversations in my head of what I should have said or what I would say if given the opportunity. It’s taken a lot of conscious thinking to interrupt those thoughts, but I’m successfully doing it more and more with help from the phrase “It is what it is.” I used to think those words were only spouted by young hipsters. But now I find that saying that statement, to myself or out loud to others, serves as a reminder that the past can’t be changed. Learn from it and move on.
So, getting back to the question…does age give you a free pass to speak your mind? As I think about how my voice has grown stronger over the years, I would say yes. But then again, I’m older, so I can say whatever I want.