Life in My 50s: More confident, less sure

January 17, 2013 | Life in My 50s

For much of my younger adult life, I was waiting — hoping — for the day when I would feel wise. Some people said when they hit 40 they finally felt comfortable in their own skin and filled with wisdom to boot. I never felt that at 40. Not that it was a bad age, but the wisdom thing wasn’t happening as far as I was concerned. Then I heard, no, wait, 50 will be the magical age when you stop caring what other people think and become who you were always meant to be. I hit 50 in September, and while I felt some of that, I still didn’t feel all that wise.

Waiting…waiting…waiting for wisdom. And then recently it dawned on my that the wisdom had crept in while I wasn’t looking. It wasn’t a hit-you-over-the-head kind of wisdom. More like a slow burn, something I got used to bit by bit and so never really noticed was there at all. Sort of like when you eat pasta multiple times a week and then, to your shock, discover a few pounds you didn’t realize you were carrying around with you. Yeah, like that, my wisdom is. (And with wisdom comes the ability to talk like Yoda.)

So how did it dawn on me that I had become a wise old woman? (I actually typed “wild” old woman at first, and smiled because, guess what, there’s some of that, too, happily.) Well, just the other day I was reading something written by someone I can only refer to as a Young Whippersnapper, a Twenty-Something, whose words were full of smugness and I’m-so-much-smarter-than-the-rest-of-the world attitude, and I found myself thinking that this person needs to age a little, mature into a self-confidence that does not require smugness or a conviction that you-and-only-you have all the answers, all the right answers. And that’s when I realized I had, in fact, become wise during my five decades on this earth. Not wiser than everyone else; wise enough to know I don’t know everything.

Where youth is positive in its ignorance (as my father-in-law likes to say of people), age is confident in its uncertainty, and that’s a very good thing. We reach a place, or at least I’ve reached a place, where I have my opinions, I hold fast to my beliefs, but I don’t for one minute think that my way is the only right way or that the people around me don’t know just as much as I do. And I want to soak it all up, float quietly on it, and bubble along on a never-ending stream of “What ifs…” Not the fearful “What ifs…” of my youth, but “What ifs…” that are pregnant with joyful possibility. Build up, open up, lift up — that is at the heart of wisdom.

I still have a hard time accepting that the wisdom of old age has started to settle into my increasingly creaky bones. But when I stop and reflect, I can’t deny it’s there, reminding me, when I take the time to listen, that all these years and all these wrinkles and all these gray curls cropping up more quickly than I’d like, are physical markers on the path to wisdom.

I guess I have to give the Young Whippersnappers a break because  wisdom is not something we can force, and it’s not something we get without hard work and a bit of pain along the way. But — and this is a pretty significant “but” — wisdom is something we can cut off or block out if we remain so positive in our ignorance that we refuse to admit or accept that maybe, just maybe, a viewpoint other than our own is just as valid or maybe even more valid, if we choose smugness over kindness, flash over substance, popularity over sincerity, or “success” over truth.

As I write this post, I can’t help coming back to an earlier post I wrote about my words for the year: Truth, Trust, Surrender. There’s a lot of wisdom in those words, even if they are difficult to live. Surrender, typically viewed as weakness, is often where we find our strength, but that realization usually takes some time to assimilate into our hearts and minds. Some rare people get that gift when they’re young; the rest of us have to wait a while to discover or uncover it. Often it’s there, dormant under the facade we put on for the rest of the world, waiting for us to take off the mask of false confidence and reveal the wisdom of true love.


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