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Thriving Rather Than Striving

Dear All,

COVID has aged me.

The struggles, the losses, the feeling of being trapped, the depletion of energy, the repetition of days, all have conspired to age me considerably.

It doesn’t matter if others can see that I’ve aged.

I feel it.

Mary Pipher who wrote the best-selling book on teenage girls called Reviving Ophelia, wrote a book on the topic called Women Rowing North, Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.

The title got to me. I imagined all the women I know in canoes rowing north, against the current, paddling with ferocity while laughing and waving to one another. Just the thought of being part of something bigger than my own situation calmed me down.

One of my favorite quotes about aging is by Ingrid Bergman who wrote “getting old is like climbing a mountain. You get a little out of breath but the view is much better.”

For me, this is a poignant reminder of the gift of aging; perspective.

Mary Pipher writes:

“The core concern of this life stage, with all of its perils and pleasures, is how to cultivate resilient responses to the challenges we face. Resilience is built by attention and intention. We can take responsibility for our attitudes and focus on our strengths and joys. We can go deep and face truth squarely. We can learn the skills that allow us to adapt to anything. Yes, anything.”

Her advice sounds similar to what I share with my coaching clients of all ages.

Pay attention to what’s happening.

Be intentional about everything; your partner, your passion, your time.

Go deep by meditating and reflecting and face the truth squarely.

As we age, we don’t need to climb the ladder of success as defined but external forces and opt instead for more internal satisfaction.

We focus on thriving rather than striving.

Isn’t that what we want at any stage of life?

I am on the cusp of significant change in my life.

In fact, it seems that every conversation I have has to do with navigating change; in my work life, my parents’ lives, my children’s lives, my siblings’ lives.

I love the fact that Mary Pipher talks about her body aging while her soul expands. That's what I am going for and you can too.

We can hold seemingly diametrically opposed truths at the same time.

Most of us are struggling with one thing while celebrating something else. We can be facing tremendous loss and great possibility.

To be happy, Pipher continues, “we cannot just settle for being a diminished version of our younger selves. We must change the ways we think and behave..(and develop) attitudes and skills… to let go of the past, embrace the new, cope with loss, and experience wisdom, authenticity and bliss.

Seems like a prescription for life, not just for aging.

Pipher outlines a number of areas that we should devote ourselves to so that we ward off the negative side effects of aging. These are a few of her suggestions for thriving.

1. A commitment to growth and being curious about everyone and everything around you.

2. Acceptance, surrendering to what is.

3. Embracing friends and family and leaning in to how important connection is.

4. Becoming comfortable being alone; distinguishing solitude from loneliness

5. Getting to know and understand ourselves better; self awareness

6. Making intentional choices about our priorities and how to spend our time.

7. Giving ourselves “small treats” every day.

8. Creating community and giving of yourself to that community.

My favorite chapter has to do with “creating resplendent narratives”, by which the author means thinking and speaking about one’s life focused on one’s strength and resilience. Learning to share from a place of pride in what we have accomplished emotionally in our life, where we have shown our true colors, embraced and overcome challenges to become the extraordinary people that we are is critical.

In the words of the Native American poet Joy Harjo, “It is memory that provides the heart with impetus, fuels the brain and propels the corn plant from seed to fruit.”

“We can’t change our pasts, but we can still change our stories..Stories allow us to make sense of our lives, resolve our omnipresent contradictions and understand ourselves and others. They give us context for comprehending the flow of life that constantly surrounds us… We can remember our history of resilient responses. We can compose narratives that serve us… We can ask, How did that make me stronger? What did I learn from that experience? What am I proud of when I look back?

Creating meaning in our lives really is our only option. And that is the case no matter what stage of life you are in. We arrive at true meaning when we know deep in our core being that change is constant. The best parenting advice I ever got was to remember that "everything is a stage." Critical to hold onto during the toddler and teenage years! It's the same with life. We can learn a lot from the Buddhist tradition which teaches that everything is impermanent.

Practitioners have always understood impermanence as the cornerstone of Buddhist teachings and practice. All that exists is impermanent; nothing lasts. Therefore nothing can be grasped or held onto. When we don’t fully appreciate this simple but profound truth we suffer.The Buddha’s final words express this: Impermanence is inescapable. Everything vanishes. <