Ageism Among the Aged – That’s Whacky!
I know plenty of individuals in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s who don’t want to hang around with “old people.” These old people may be the same age, yet, they are seen as different, because they are seen as old. Isn’t that fascinating. When is Old Old, and what is Old, anyway?
Orcas Island Senior Lunch.
The room is a sea of white-haired people, sitting around tables, apparently enjoying the company of others. Quite often a piano player is providing beautiful and joyful music. To some, this is very inviting!
Depending on which table you visit, you may find people talking about the domino game that will follow lunch. At another table they are talking about aches and pains, body part replacements, or how so-and-so just got medi-vac’d off the island. At another table, there is talk about singing at the next talent show; another, about visiting children and grandchildren. There is a table of individuals talking politics, about good books, or the upcoming live-streaming of an opera or ballet. And at another, they are talking sports, hunting, and fishing. You just never know.
When you walk into the room, based on what you think and believe about aging, you may not see yourself as one of them – one of those white haired people. In that moment, you may be thinking: I’m not one of them – I’m not aging and I’m not getting old.
Somehow, we don’t see that, aside from being a white-haired person, there are a lot of amazingly creative and brilliant people sitting in the midst of that snowy white hair. What we see is what we view through the lens of our personally cultivated and highly valued interpretations about old people. We humans are such fascinating beings. We create all sorts of thoughts and impose them on the world we live in.
This article isn’t about promoting the Senior Center, because there are a lot of people who aren’t interested in the social aspect of the Center. This article is about how so many of us look at ourselves as separate and different, and how we may alienate others, even though they are just like us. This may be just too scary to accept!
Ageism like Racism, Sexism, Classism, any other -ism, is based on beliefs, judgments and assessments that quite often have nothing to do with the truth. All ISMs involve a negative prejudgement, whose purpose is to maintain the sense of power and control within ourselves. In the Recovery Community, any ISM stands for Inner Sh*t Maintained. Ouch! That hits home!
The other night, I had an interesting experience that serves this point. While brushing my teeth, I notice that my gums are receding. The term “Long in the Tooth” came up, and I was instantaneously triggered. This gum receding thing is just another indication that I am, indeed, getting old.
I climbed into bed, and because I’m not only writing these articles on aging and change, but also leading discussions on aging at the Senior Center, I kind of had to be with this experience with a little bit more attention. Sure, the receding gums could be caused by something other than aging, but in this moment, aging is what got triggered.
By allowing myself to be with what was happening, I experienced what felt like an eruption of emotion, like lancing a boil or a cyst. (gross, I know!) (Does this analogy make me sound old?!) Though highly uncomfortable, I had to be with all of what showed up.
Primarily, I experienced much of what I believe is just part and parcel of being human. The bottom line – in that moment, I experienced myself as a complete and utter failure; that this life and all its efforts has culminated into nothing. Deep humiliation arose, as did the “truth:” my life had no meaning and no value.
This all occurred because I looked in the mirror and noticed a dental issue. The rest was the inevitable unfolding of my interpretations of me, aging. Imagine what shows up when I walk into the Senior Center with all these unacknowledged thoughts and feeling? Like so many of us aging ageists, I spew all of my failings and my meaningless humiliation onto those innocent individuals that are my target of disdain, because they are just like me, and I’m just like them.
The practice of what psychologists call projection, allows each of us to deny a personal emotional “truth” about ourselves, and only see it in those outside ourselves. That moment when I experienced and acknowledged my deepest failure, humiliation, and meaninglessness allowed me to see what I normally just project onto most white-haired people, not with compassion but with judgment and contempt.
Aging and agism resides within the eye of the beholder. Though projected out onto the external world, it usually has everything to do with one’s own personal resistance to acknowledging and accepting the truth of who they are within these wrinkled, baggy old bodies. It has absolutely nothing to do with those upon whom we impose judgments. We separate ourselves out, seeing ourselves being somehow different and better than others, even within our own age, race, class, sex, or political or religious positioning.
Aging gracefully requires that we take on the challenging task of being present and truthful with ourselves. I believe the hardest challenge of aging gracefully is to acknowledge that yes, indeed, in many ways we have failed. In many ways we have humiliated ourselves. In many ways our lives are not in alignment with what we imagined for ourselves. And, at times, life does seem meaningless. We accept the truth of all of this and surrender the critical self-judgments that burdens us with far more than just the aches and pains of everyday living.
As I examine the aging process, I am far more appreciative of what it takes for every individual to get out of bed every morning and face the unknowns of of the day. Humility replaces humiliation. Meaning is found in the more simpler parts of life, and failures are surrendered too. It takes courage to face every day, for all of us, not just those who are considered old and aging. We certainly aren’t sissies!
Who me? Aging? Yes, I am!
Posts Tagged ‘Courage’
Barbara Herschel was a long time Orcas Islander. She was a big hearted activist and advocated for changes that made our community more viable in so many ways. She was a real gift.
Barbara hired me as her Life Coach at the age of 78. Her husband Bill passed away, and after a long time of caregiving for him, she was ready to return to those activities that made her heart soar. She wanted to paint again – something she was passionate about, yet she just couldn’t get around to it. My job was to get her on track with her painting.
It wasn’t uncommon for Barbara to be distracted with any number of issues that in the moment seemed critical, but were really not. One of those issue’s was her health. She was always running off the Island to see one doctor, or healer, or nutritionist. She had a heart problem, a hearing problem, and like most people in their late 70’s, she experienced those challenges that come with the deterioration of one’s physical being. Barbara spent a lot of time worrying about what frightened her most – having a heart attack and dying alone.
You wouldn’t think that pulling out a bunch of paints, a canvas and some brushes would warrant hiring a life coach, and the four years that Barbara and I spent together never did culminate in one single painting. Our work culminated in something far more exquisite and valuable, however, through the discernment of the essence of Barbara in the midst of her life, as it was, as it is, and as it would be.
The day before Barbara died, she had an experience of self-empowerment and self-reliance that she had been longing for all her life. She called me, leaving a message on my answering machine – I DID IT! I will never forget the joy in her voice as she shared with me that ecstatic moment. She was no longer afraid. She was free.
Barbara died the next day alone, of a heart attack. And I have no doubt she was at peace.
My client Sarah is 62. She is a resident of the Bay Area, and is about to become the president of a highly renowned national organization for business women. Sarah hired me as a life coach to help her figure out what the heck her life was about, and what she really wanted to do with the rest of her life.
Like Barbara, Sarah gets distracted with stuff that keeps her from really discerning the essence of her life and her work. She gets mired in those assumed critical issues of her complex life. Fortunately, Sarah is committed enough to realizing her truth that she quit her work as a life coach, took a month away from her husband and home, and went on retreat at her family’s ranch in Idaho.
Sarah is stepping into the presidency role in June, and as much as she has resistance about taking this position, she knows there is something bigger than her that compels her to take the seat of leadership for this organization. In our most current session, we focused on what was at the heart and soul of the two years to come. By mining the truth of this, Sarah could lead in alignment with her highest desires, and make her greatest contribution to the members of the organization, and to the Country as well. If she didn’t discern the essence of this work for herself, she would flounder in disorganized, scattered factions of what she thought other people expected of her.
My primary question for Sarah was the same question that I had for Barbara Herschel: What is the culmination of your being in this life, in this position of leadership? When discerning the essence of one’s life and one’s life work, the answer is the same. For Barbara, the essence was Fearless Freedom. For Sarah, it is Fierce Love.
Regardless of where you are in the aging process, discerning the essence of one’s life, or the roles one plays within their life, helps tremendously to get a sense of trajectory of what this is all about, where this is all leading. When coming into that sweet spot of recognition and knowing without a doubt that this is the essence of me, this is the essence of my work, life feels easier, more relaxed, and allows in more openness, joy and fun.
I have no doubt that Barbara died in fearless freedom. And I have no doubt that Sarah’s leadership will culminate in women of the world growing themselves and their businesses from, and into Fierce Love. When the essence of one’s being is discerned and acted upon, how could it be any other way?
Creating yourself as who you want to be can be anxiety provoking. You have no idea what your fullest potential looks like; it’s all unknown. Are you curious enough to endure anxious moments of not knowing for the sake of finding out? Are you willing to be fierce in your discipline, enough to practice 100% accountability, living into integrity, and aligning your actions with your highest truth? Can you be compassionate enough with yourself through this exploration, to allow yourself to fumble and be humbled by this amazing process of realizing your highest self, highest truth and highest potential? Can you be courageous enough to reach out for handholds, supports and resources that allow your strengths to be experienced by you?
Creating yourself as who you want to be can be anxiety provoking; you have no idea what your fullest potential looks like; it’s all unknown. Are you curious and courageous enough to endure anxious moments of not knowing for the sake of finding out? Are you willing to be fierce in your discipline, enough to practice 100% accountability, living into integrity, and aligning your actions with your highest truth? Can you be compassionate with yourself through this exploration, allowing yourself to fumble and be humbled by this amazing process of realizing your highest self, highest truth and highest potential? Can you be courageous enough to reach out for handholds, supports and resources that allow your strengths to be experienced by you?
A client of mine in Toronto, Frank, is challenged in this moment with an interesting dilemma. His project is stalled due to a number of factors outside his area of responsibility. He’s in a “wait and see” place, and what he’s finding is that he’s experiencing a lack of motivation, a sense of inadequacy and he’s questioning his competence.
“Something must be wrong with me or the way I’m doing my job.” Frank says, as he’s struggling to find what’s missing in order to get some momentum going for his project. “On the one hand, I know there’s nothing for me to do but to wait for decision makers to take the next step. On the other hand, though, I keep wondering if there’s something I can do, or something I’m not doing that’s precipitating the stall. I feel unmotivated and I don’t know what to do about that.”
What Frank is calling unmotivated stems from thoughts and beliefs that arise in this period of incubation for the project. In our coaching session he and I discussed the life cycle of essentially every living thing on the planet, including relationships, corporations and projects. By viewing his project within a natural and normal cycle of being, Frank was able to draw from a reality that allowed him to take his proper place in the unfolding of his project. At the same time, he couldn’t stop himself from asking “Am I doing something wrong? What’s mine to do here? Is there something I can do to hurry this incubation period along?”
Frank’s questions are good ones. First things first, though. One of Frank’s fears is that people are going to find out or decide that he is inadequate. So, in circumstances such as the one he currently is finding himself, the first thought that comes to mind is How am I being inadequate that is contributing to the stall out this project?
Frank’s boss has acknowledged him for his leadership role in bringing the project to this level of completion. He’s been clear with him that he’s done everything he can and now it’s time to wait for others to do their part in order to bring about the next level of the cycle of the project. So, by all indications, there are no inadequacies on the part of Frank. This is one choice-point Frank finds himself at: Can he let go of his fear of inadequacy and allow himself to experience the full capacity of his competence? This is an important step in him defining himself as a leader.
The second question: What’s mine to do?, is the next step. At first, Frank could find nothing to do while waiting for others to do what’s theirs to do; however with a little prodding he was able to come up with a list of five tasks that would be valuable to consider.
- Make a list of all the smaller projects and tasks that have not been attended to while he’s been focused on the larger project and take actions towards completing them
- Take time with individual members of his team, connect with them, perhaps provide some mentoring and supervision – something he’s unable to do when caught up in the momentum of the project
- Meet with others in his company to talk about these types of dilemmas, perhaps brainstorming what’s possible to move projects like this along, as well as openly exploring what he may be missing, as well as provide support for each other when things are not going as planned
- Find projects outside the workplace that provide fulfillment when fulfillment isn’t forthcoming in his work
- Realize that he is more than the fulfillment of his project, and that he needs to explore other meaningful ways to bring fulfillment into his life.
For Frank, and so many of us, this last item is really important. We’ve forgotten that we are not our projects. We are not our degrees, certifications, job titles, our bank accounts, our successes or our failures. We are beings engaged with the life experiences we currently find ourselves in. We are here to be curious, to explore and experiment with what we know and what we haven’t yet discovered about ourselves. Fulfillment comes from courageously stepping into that adventure – for Frank, the adventure is exploring who he is in the midst of nothing to do. That’s it!
Frank’s final question: Is there something I can do to hurry this incubation period along, is also important to consider. Frank is conscientious enough to ensure that he’s doing everything he can do to keep the project moving, as best he can. He is now in the dilemma of being with patience and understanding that some things take the time they take; you can’t pull on a seedling to help move it along to becoming a tree.
This period of time is growing Frank. He too is incubating, and something is happening within him, just like his project, that, when its time, will automatically generate the beginning of the next phase of the cycle of life. This just may be the very thing required for the project to begin to get some traction. Everything is interrelated. Frank is growing the project, the project is growing Frank, and a greater cycle of growth is being generated that is way beyond our imagination. There’s more to all of this than meets the eye!
To state the obvious, there’s no question we are living in turbulent times. The winds of change are creating upheaval and instability, leaving chaos and confusion in its wake. The almighty dollar upon which we’ve built just about all of our institutions, including religion, as well as a sense of security and stability is rocking and rolling like those areas around the planet that are experiencing earthquakes. Everything is getting shaken up.
In the workplace, job security is getting to be a bankrupt concept. And, if you manage to keep your job, most likely you’ve taken on the work of those who have lost theirs. More stress and fewer fulfillment.
Naomi, a client of mine in San Francisco used to love going to work every morning. Now, with a new CEO pressuring the very small staff to produce way beyond their capability, the strain is such that she experiences overwhelm, frustration and, what we normally call depression. “What’s the point?” Naomi asks, rhetorically. “I used to love my work, but now I’m thinking of leaving. It’s all too much?”
As a sailor who crossed the Atlantic Ocean, I could see the changes on the surface of the water that tells us whether we’ll be experiencing turbulence or calm seas. We could see miles off in the distance any sea change that was coming our way. We could prepare appropriately and settle in for any turbulence.
Though I fly frequently, I am disconcerted by any turbulence we experience in the air because it is invisible, generally speaking. I look out the window intending on discovering that which is the catalyst for my discomfort. As an analogy, I find that these instabilities we are currently experiencing is much the same; where or what is the instigator of all of this turbulence in all of our institutions, our solar system, in the Universe at large? I find it fascinating!
The invisible catalyst is a known entity to those who know. For most of us though we feel victimized by the unseen forces that have wreaked havoc to our lifestyles, our sense of security and stability. We are losing our ground of being that we thought was us! Every aspect of life is getting a good shake up. The question I pose is what is our role in this shake up? How do we be with the devastation of our life paths that lay in ruin? Is there a way to create stability in an unstable environment?
Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide!
In any work environment, each of us brings with us, on a daily basis, a sense of un-assuredness. And, with that comes stress, worry and perhaps a less then calm and serene demeanor. We feel helpless and powerless in the face of these turbulent times. Like Naomi, the heads of institutions are bringing in the sails, battening down the hatches, throwing access baggage overboard. We are always wondering if today is the day that we walk the plank.
So what’s the solution? Well, since, on a spiritual level, there is no problem, then there’s no solutions required. What is required is remembering who you are in the first place. Who were you before you were a business person, a member of a cultural or religious tradition; before you were a man or a woman? It takes a lot of sifting through the myriad identities that we’ve overlaid upon our essential nature, however, by remembering who you really are, you come to find the calm sea within, realizing that, like Shakespeare says we are merely players on this stage we call THIS LIFE. We can leave the behind our roles, identities and characters. In doing so we come back to the “me” underneath it all.
I googled spirituality in business, again, and found more articles and blogs that share the degree to which business people are engaging in spiritual conversations in the workplace. I’m not making this stuff up, attempting to convince you of the paradigm shift within which we are immersed. I am encouraging you to see how disempowered you can believe yourself to be in this moment, or, you can cultivate awareness and awaken to how empowered you are to empower yourself and others.
Our business institutions are the spiritual centers now. It is where we practice the essential truths of our religious and spiritual traditions. Its where we practice acceptance of what we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference; its where we practice compassion, for there but for the grace of God go thee; it’s were we deliver ourselves from evil for the sake of well-being of every being on the planet as well as the planet herself; its, as Mahatma Gandhi said – being the change we wish to see.
Turbulence? You bet. It gives us the opportunity to discover clarity of knowing there is nothing to fear but fear itself (I’m so grateful for all of those who’ve created these incredibly wise statements.). Discovering, recognizing and acknowledging this Truth is essential to the journey. With this in mind, enjoy the adventure!
From: Julia W. Boulder, Colorado
Dear Dr. Rosie,
I’m curious how you’ve prepared for this New Year? Did you evaluate and assess how things went for you in 2010 and make a list of what you want to have happen in 2011? What process did you follow to make this coming year better than the last?
Look forward to seeing you at the next Colorado Wonderful Women’s Retreat in February.
From: Dr. Rosie
What comes along automatically for me with the end of a season, a cycle or a year is a process of questioning of what I could have done differently and what am I willing to consider doing differently in this upcoming period of time. Our economic situation is just one element of many that makes it seem imperative that I rethink things so as to allow life to turn out the way I want rather than have it turn out the way it could, if I don’t shift how I’m being or what I’m doing. This usually gives me a sense of control over my current situation and lessens the experience of being at the mercy of something outside myself. In just these few sentences I’ve revealed a couple of values that will enter my evaluation process and the planning I’ll do for 2011 and beyond.
You see, Julia, what influences our choice-making process more than anything else is the values that we live into; the values that we align with and in many ways make sacred, which will have us choose what we choose to choose for this upcoming year to turn out the way we want.
The values I want to live into are perhaps different than what I’ve always believed to be most important. Stability, Security, Safety and Control (SSS and C) have been primary values that have kept me stuck in beliefs and in actions that don’t really serve me anymore. I’m not wanting to replace these with their opposites but I may want to modify my list to include values that I’ve ignored or been afraid to acknowledge. The SSS and C values too often have limited me from acting and allowing more of what I’m wanting to occur in my life. And so I want to ask myself what are some other qualities that I want as much as or more than SSS and C.
Freedom, Fun and Flexibility are three values at the top of my list when assessing projects I take on. Courage and Allowing are also very important. Love, Kindness and Generosity have become more important as I mature. And, for those who know me well, they know that Nature and Beauty are also very close to the top of my list.
Courage is becoming more important to me as I continually push the edge of my comfort zone in order to practice walking my talk. Integrity and Accountability are also really important to me and in order to be accountable and in integrity I have to be courageous enough to be-with the various forms of discomfort that are going to surface as I ignore those parts of me that want to resist this, in service to my old values of SSS and C.
This creates a dilemma in that I have to continually be vigilant, observing my natural inclination to avoid and distract myself, even go unconscious of my actions, in service of SSS and C. I have to continually be vigilant of not only my actions but the thoughts that fuel those actions, the ones that judge, criticize and hinder any movement towards those values that bring about a fulfillment of my spirit but contradict the belief that Safety, Stability and Security are essential. To live into my truth I continually have to practice being death-defying. I’m not into extreme sports unless you include taking leaps-of-faith an extreme sport.
So assessing my values and re-prioritizing them is a big practice I take on at the end of the year.
Another practice, Julia, is to make a list of regrets; what I did or didn’t do over the year that had things turn out the way they did. There isn’t anything to fix, heal, change or convert here, nor necessarily to forgive. Looking at this list lets me see where I didn’t act according to my highest good or my highest truth. I can sit with myself or with my coach and discover what survival strategies were in place that had me choose to choose what I chose. I ask myself what was I serving that created the regrets. What was I afraid people might find out or decide about me – or what I would find out or decide about myself? What was I afraid to discover about me? What would I have to face if I were to discover something about myself I wouldn’t like or respect? These questions allow me to go beyond the basic list-making of New Year Resolutions and become ever more resolved to transform my choice-making process to ensure the outcome I’m wanting.
There is a part of me that doesn’t want to be so accountable and responsible for creating a bigger, better and different 2011. I want to appreciate all I’ve done to make 2010 the year it was; to remember where I was courageous and brave, where I allowed myself to be vulnerable in service to my highest truth and highest good; where I pushed myself to be generous beyond my means, knowing that the abundance of the Universe is always showering gifts upon me. I want to acknowledge myself for all of the stretching and strengthening I did this year to become who I am and to be the foundation of who I’m becoming.
If I can follow through with these three practices, Julia, I believe I will be ready, perched on the edge of my nest, like a fledgling eagle and make the leap into the ethers anticipating the exhilaration of what’s to come.
May your year be filled with courage and daring acts of being you!