Why You Should Never Base Your Life's Timeline on Your Age

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

"Art isn’t something you need an outside license or a paycheck to pursue. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of adding up what you feel and where you’ve been and what you fear and what you can imagine. It’s a way of seeing your life through a lens that makes everything — good and bad, confusing and clarifying, uplifting and depressing — valuable." - Heather Havrilesky, Ask Polly 11/28/18

I stumbled upon the Ask Polly column on The Cut.com a few months ago while sick with the flu and to say it blew my mind is an understatement.

The author Heather Havrilesky answers letters weekly under the name Polly and honestly, some of the topics she tackles are deep and thought-provoking.

In the column titled ‘I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life’, she advises 'Haunted', who has written in about how disappointed she is in her life, haunted by the things she had set out to accomplish in life but at the age of 35, feels she has accomplished nothing. 

Haunted has moved many times to different cities, traveled, had relationships and jobs. She is currently unhappy with her current job and is at a point where she is tired. She has tons of debt, no friends, single and no children. And the kicker? She's a writer.

I said out loud to myself, "Am I reading something from myself?"

I used to be Haunted, literally and figuratively. In the past, I have said many times how I felt like I have not accomplished what I set out to do in my life. I'm now in my late 40's and never married or had children. I've always felt like I should have done so much at this point of my life. I was haunted by what I didn't do because it made me feel inadequate and at times, worthless.

But this is something that many of us feel. We base our timeline on our age. 

We're told that by a certain age, we should have X amount of things done. We should be married. We should have children. We should go to college and/or be set in our careers by a certain age. I could go on. But guess what? Life almost never goes as planned.
"Shame is the opposite of art. When you live inside of your shame, everything you see is inadequate and embarrassing. A lifetime of traveling and having adventures and not being tethered to long-term commitments looks empty and pathetic and foolish, through the lens of shame. You haven’t found a partner. Your face is aging. Your body will only grow weaker. Your mind is less elastic. Your time is running out. Shame turns every emotion into the manifestation of some personality flaw, every casual choice into a giant mistake, every small blunder into a moral failure. Shame means that you’re damned and you’ve accomplished nothing and it’s all downhill from here."
When I read that, I was completely mind-blown. 

Shame. These feelings I have, they have a name. I never thought of how I was feeling as shame but it is. One of the mantras I live by is change your mindset, change your life. And the difference between living inside your shame versus looking at your shame with an open mind and heart is that you look at life through a different lens, which then determines how you live that life. 

Polly goes on to tell Haunted how she can create a new life for herself by simply looking at her shame differently. By not being afraid to accept that while life is not perfect, it can still be wonderful.

"You need to discard some of this shame you’re carrying around all the time. But even if you can’t cast off your shame that quickly, through the lens of art, shame becomes valuable. When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it, you can see the true texture of the day and the richness of the moment, with all of its flaws. You can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it. When you face your shame with an open heart, you’re on a path to art, on a path to finding joy and misery and fear and hope in the folds of your day. Even as your job is slow and dull and pointless, even as your afternoons alone feel treacherous and daunting, you can train your eyes on the low-hanging clouds until a tiny bit of sunlight filters through. You are alive and you will probably be alive for many decades to come. The numbers on your credit-card statements can feel harrowing, but you can take that feeling and keep it company instead of letting it eat you alive. You can walk to the corner store to buy a newspaper and pull out the weekend calendar section and circle something, and make a commitment to do that one thing. You can build a new kind of existence, one that feels small and flawed and honest, but each day you accumulate a kind of treasure that doesn’t disappear. Because instead of running away from the truth, you welcome it in. You don’t treat what you have as pointless. You work with what you have."
Havrilesky does an incredible job of issuing advice while being transparent on how she identifies with the person's feelings, including admitting her own flaws. This makes her a real person and not just someone writing a column for a major website who also has a book out. Everyone, even someone like Oprah, has their struggles. 

We always tend to look at the end result instead of the journey, when looking at people. So it's easy to compare our lives to theirs and feel some kind of way about their success in comparison to ours.

"When you carry around a suspicion that there’s something sort of embarrassing or pathetic about you, you find ways to project that shame onto completely innocuous things. You find ways to tell yourself that everyone is laughing at you behind your back somewhere, possibly at a party where they are serving beautiful tasty drinks but you weren’t invited. You’re too old now. You’re no longer exciting or important. You don’t matter. You never really did. Shame creates imaginary worlds inside your head. This haunted house you’re creating is forged from your shame. No one else can see it, so you keep trying to describe it to them. You find ways to say, “You don’t want any part of this mess. I’m mediocre, aging rapidly, and poor. Do yourself a favor and leave me behind.” You want to be left behind, though. That way, no one bears witness to what you’ve become. It’s time to come out of hiding. It’s time to step into the light and be seen, shame and wrinkles and failures and fears and all." 
That last line! I'm done! 

This year, my mission is to step into my power. I want to show up more for myself and others. I want to put myself out there more with positive intentions. I want to walk in a room with a positive attitude and be open to what awaits.

Does it scare the shit out of me? Hell yes. But if I am to live out this life of mine as fully as I can, I have to let go of my shame, my past (including past negative stories I told myself) and being afraid of the unknown.

This year has already kicked off amazingly and I keep thinking of my niece. She now watches over me, along with my dad and brother. And I can hear her voice in my ear, saying "Auntie, you got this!"

Typing that out makes the tears flow because she's only been gone 7 months. But as I learned when I lost my dad and then my brother, time does not stand still. Grief is painful but in order to live and keep moving, I have to learn how to carry that pain with me and channel it into something positive. 

Honoring their legacy and continuing her work is what drives me. I'm going to be 50 next year but you know what? It's never too late to do whatever is on my life's to-do list. Gray hairs, pre-menopause and all. No wrinkles yet but I am not complaining! LOL! 

Here's to living my best life and you living yours at any age. xoxo

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