I’ve got news for you.
When you’re a woman living in a world obsessed with youth and beauty, aging with confidence is not a passive process. If I want to wake up feeling invigorated about my life and good about who I am, I’ll need to work for it.
It will require a blunt honesty about how I value yourself.
And it starts with being empowered in three areas.
1. Stop clinging to old, critical story-lines about Myself
Do you know how it feels when you finally talk-in-person to someone you’ve only heard stories about, only to discover they are nothing like the impression you had of them?
Well. You can walk around with distorted views of your Self too.
When you have a critical inner voice, or when you feel bad about some part of your Self, chances are you’re clinging to some personal narrative leftover from your past. But here’s the truth, if you examined your memory objectively, it would be distorted by emotion and filled with details that are factually incorrect.
But these narratives remain powerful because they still trigger intense feelings years later.
Take my example with my work-out leggings, at first glance it looks like a silly thing.
But not long ago I would have been cringing at my mistake, convinced that everyone’s eyes were riveted on my protruding seams and that of course, they were snickering as I walked away. The Younger Me would have rushed home to change, unable to tolerate the embarrassment of having my defective self on full display.
And there’s the key-word. Defective.
It’s my own self-label, and while it might explain how I once felt in my life — different, defective, less than, — these are outdated beliefs left over from fuzzy memories, maybe fragments of words someone once said, who knows?
But when I unconsciously attach these old labels to some current event in my life, it’s like being shackled to the past.
Do this instead
Once I realize that I don’t recall my memories with accuracy, I’m free to question my hurtful narratives with fresh eyes and this can reveal truths I previously missed.
Here’s a helpful clue. Whenever my intense reactions seem disproportionate to the situation, a piece of my past has likely been triggered. Facing these messy feelings with curiosity and self-compassion, is like releasing the air out of a balloon. Their power dissipates.
That afternoon while I was walking around in my inside-out leggings, here’s the real truth. I still felt that twinge of self-consciousness. But here’s what’s different today.
I no longer allow those powerful feelings of shame and embarrassment to define ME.
This is possible because I am now able to create enough space between myself and my emotions to view them from the eyes of an observer.
I am not my feelings and I am not my thoughts. I know this sounds basic, but that’s a monumental step towards being happy.
My kinder voice sounds like this:
Oh, look. It’s that old feeling of ‘being different’ again. Of thinking that I’m the only one who does something like this and this wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t something deficient and lacking about me.
Instead of investing in these negative emotions I can choose to acknowledge them in a way that doesn’t cling or overwhelm me.
Instead of telling myself, “Oh my god I am so embarrassed,”
I will say, “I feel embarrassment passing through my body right now.”
And this is the biggest game-changer; I recognize I’m in charge. And I can stop over-identifying with negative emotions.
Yes, I will feel my embarrassment. I will respect that it’s telling me something interesting, but I will also allow it to move through me without judging; this emotion is not Me.
And today I am living my new story.
2. Reject Other-ness.
I explain Other-ness like this.
When I’m in grade school I admire the prettiest girl in your class and I desperately want to be included at her birthday party.
When I’m 15, walking on the hot sidewalk with my best friend, I gaze at the 16-year-olds driving in their cars. And I wish that was me.
When I’m 19 without a boyfriend, I wish I was that popular 21- year-old having a blast in the bar scene surrounded by friends.
When I’m 35, I miss my 20-year old body.
When I’m 40 I wish I was like the woman at my son’s school, who seems to be balancing motherhood and career in a way I’m not.
You get the idea.
Otherness happens when I insist on looking at the Other Person to measure my value and to make sense of my (lack of) inner contentment.
Only it’s not the awareness of the Other Person that’s the problem, it’s the silent comparisons I make inside my head.
And while the adage, “keeping up with the Jones” has been around for a long time, living in the age of social media has introduced comparisons with others on a colossal scale, one that most people believe is hurting their self-esteem.
It’s this simple. Measuring myself against others will leave me in a constant state of discontent. So I begin by catching myself in the action:
Next time I find myself looking at someone I admire and asking,
· Why am I not more like her?
· Why is my life not like her life?
Instead, I start with the truth.
I feel like something is missing.
But every time I get misty-eyed over an Admired Person — insisting they possess that one thing I’m missing — I drift father away from my authentic center.
Instead, go toward the empty place inside you for the answers.
Begin with empathy for your sense of confusion and discontent that makes you to look outward for solutions and instead, use these vulnerable feelings as a guide to find your core.
Strive to understand that part of you that feels dissatisfied. Be fascinated to learn more.
It’s fine to see what someone else is doing, but when you end up feeling bad about yourself or dissatisfied with your own life afterward, consider it an invitation to grow.
3. Use real-life moments to help you find my inner compass
Each day you get a do-over, another chance to be the person you aspire to be.
But it requires self-awareness.
I was at a wedding recently, standing in a group of women I hadn’t seen in a while and after several minutes of cheerful conversation, one of the women left the group. Within seconds, the remaining friends began whispering. The comments weren’t meant as negative, these were nice women. But the topic was whether this woman had any “face work” done because she apparently looked great.
As I stood there I remember feeling confused. First, because I hadn’t noticed anything different but mostly because this conversation happened only seconds after she left the group.
And I couldn’t explain why, but I felt yucky.
Since then, I’ve learned from this situation.
I notice that any time I compare myself with another woman (or in this case, find myself a co-participant) it affects me physically. I sense my body becoming tense and contracted because energetically, I am choosing to keep my focus small and negative.
It’s a no-win.
Either I end up feeling inferior in some way, or I end up feeling superior which means that I’ve been judging some poor, unsuspecting person’s lifestyle or their face, or their weight in secret.
This is the opposite of living an open-hearted life that is inclusive and empathic to others.
Here’s a very different experience.
Recently a well-known yoga teacher that I follow on Instagram addressed some “haters” who had made hurtful comments about (of all things) her feet. Instead of lashing back in anger, she told her readers that “we are all mirrors to one another,” and in this way chose to focus on our sense of connectedness to each other.
She made this point.
Speaking in a tone of forgiveness, she asked those who had left mean comments to reflect on their negativity and ask themselves one question,
I was impressed by this young woman’s wisdom:
This is what I think aging with confidence looks like in real life. It’s not about being a specific age, it’s not about having a youthful body, or resembling some version of a chic, fashionable Diane Keaton.
I see it reflected in the generous spirit of this thirty-something-year-old yoga teacher.
It’s about being a certain kind of woman.
Maybe for me, this means walking around on a sunny day wearing my black leggings inside-out as a statement of defiance: No, I am not my latest goof-ball mistake nor am I my latest success.
I am so much more than what you see on the outside.
And so are You.