A Year Older.. Not So Sure About the Wiser Part
Getting older is strange, much like the experience of attempting to be a full-fledged human being… it continues to unfold in ways I did not expect as my previous ideas of “growing up” dissolve with each passing year.
At some point in my life, I imagine between the ages of 9 and 19, I expected life to be a predictable trajectory. Adulthood was supposed to be the terrain of certainty, a contrast to the seemingly perpetual turmoil of my youth.
Now, I relate to life much differently, with a growing sense that navigating the unknown is the inherent nature of life, and any sense of certainty or clarity are fleeting destinations to be appreciated without much attachment.
When contemplating my ever-evolving attitude towards what it means to be human, certain pieces of culture pop into my head, like Miley Cyrus’s “Younger Now,” which seems to resonate more with each year around the sun.
Or the sentiment: The more I learn, the less I know. (Which was apparently said by Einstein, Socrates, both or neither — who really knows or cares.)
Learning how to be human is not something I’ve received much education in. Between school and culture, I got rather well-versed in denying my humanity, at repressing emotions, needs, desires, and my general presence in my life and body.
I became an escape artist, learning to abandon and betray myself so long as it earned me approval or affirmation. I could study for 10–12 hours a day, work a job that made me miserable, stay in a relationship that made me feel suffocated and kept me small.
It has been consistently easier to disappoint myself than those that I care about. Or to live a life of dissatisfaction so long as I wasn’t at odds with society’s ideas of success.
Various factors have led me down a path of glimpsing alternatives to doing what I have been told was right. And like many people who have shared their stories with me, it was prompted by tragedy — losing one of the people closest to me.
And it was in this groundless-ness that I began giving myself permission to see beyond the outline of what was acceptable and appropriate.
In a rather cliched turn of events, I was given the opportunity to travel. And this total detachment from everything that externally identified me as “me” was incredibly liberating (and at times, totally un-grounding).
I began allowing myself to question things deeper, with more scrutiny. And I began to open myself up to possibilities, allowing myself to believe maybe other ways of being were possible.
That process began approximately 6 years ago, and since then, I have lived a pendulum existence of freedom and restriction with many stops in between.
The thing about being small, turning away from trying to live out dreams, is that it feels safe. And as a child who navigated much instability (financially and emotionally) early in life, feeling safe is a strong (and valid) craving.
The thing about living life without typical restrictions and practicing creatively seeing beyond limitations is it’s incredibly liberating. It’s a beautiful place to be, to allow myself and my deeply hopeful and enthusiastic inner child to believe that the deep desires I have are valid and worthy. But I’ve also found it’s incredibly hard to stay in this space.
So the pattern tends to unfold like this: get inspired, believe in possibility, explore, get scared, become small, react from fear, repeat.
It is a cycle I know well, one I have been living out with moderate frequency for years now.
Another tricky element of all of this is a lot of us are scared (often rightfully so) a lot of the time. So when I reach out to others for a confidence boost, sometimes instead I am met with projected fear, which in-turn feeds my own. And that little girl who’s so desperate to feel safe realizes she needs to become small again.
Then days, weeks, or months pass, and something yet again lights that spark inside me. More often than not, it is a person acting as an example of living fully despite all the external indications that it’s not the most secure route.
And then I’m off again, believing in something bigger, richer, and deeper than the small ideas I’d talked myself into.
I must confess, I find this process rather exhausting. Because it keeps me in a state of consistent turmoil and flux that pings me from one way of living to another.
One day I’m an aspiring nomad writer who can live beyond her fear. The next day I am scrambling to apply for every full-time job I’m remotely qualified for, because my retirement plan feels urgent since I have been so terribly irresponsible.
And if I’m being honest, I don’t know that either of these versions, and the many in-between, are necessarily “truer” than the other. They all feel valid, and in certain ways, necessary.
I have examples of both extremes in my life — the person who has lived life by the book and looks back with regret, and the person who has lived one day at a time and found themselves in old age feeling desperate for security.
Which, to me, indicates there is no one right answer to any of these dilemmas. And that any seemingly right answers change often, sometimes hourly.
Unlike my childhood self, I realize more and more there is no secret formula to life. And there will always be potential for failure, disappointment, and desperation, no matter the chosen path.
No path will free me from the inherent vulnerability of being human.
I’m reminded of houses burning in Boulder, of the continued change of our environment at the hands of mass destruction, and nothing feels like a better reminder of the deep uncertainty of the future.
Previously when I wrote, I thought the purpose of the writer was to wrap up a dilemma in a neat bow for the reader. For me to say, well now that I’ve outlined the problem, let me offer you the solution.
The issues with this is, I’m not so sure I believe in universal solutions. Or at least lasting ones.
Or maybe I recognize that I’m not the one to offer them (which is why I read the Tao Te Ching and Tarot cards).
So instead of clarity, I invite you to sit with whatever questions (if any) have presented themselves during this time we’ve shared together.
Or maybe to simply feel what is existing in your body in this current moment.
For me, I feel unease in my gut, a dull burning that indicates anxiety — this is a common indication that I am in a state of distress but doing my best to ignore it.
Cause honestly, I don’t put much weight in my words these days — you are creating this experience, and my words are merely a conduit for you to learn more about yourself in this moment. A lesson which might be that you’re not too interested in learning about yourself right now.
Whatever it is, it’s valid. ❤