White jeans … and apples and pears
I lurk on a lot of Facebook pages and sites that claim to support us women over 40. I say “lurk” because I stopped posting comments and questions when I realized that the energy of these groups is almost without exception toxic. They are possibly the best example of the expression “Misery loves company.”
What are the advantages to being a woman at midlife?
Ask that question and you’re likely to start a riot and/or get removed from those groups. “We don’t need your negativity—er, positivity—here!”
If you make it out alive (I’m lucky enough to speak from experience), the top answers are:
- There are none.
- Are you !@#$% insane? There are none.
- You must be one of the lucky ones. (Read: You don’t belong here.)
And on the rare occasion, the other answer is a crude “I don’t give a !@#$% what others think about me any more.”
As we say in the coaching world, “Yes, and….”
I think there are numerous advantages, and they go way beyond “I can wear white jeans any time I want to!” (Although I’ll admit that’s no small thing….)
First and foremost for me: I’ve come to realize that what others think about me really isn’t so vitally important, which is not the same as saying I don’t care what others think about me.
As I mentioned in last week’s post about anxiety, I spent my early years very concerned with measuring up to some very high standards, a lot (most?) of them self-imposed. And like so many, I think I suffered from what’s now called “impostor syndrome.”
I recently heard an interview with an actor who worked closely with the late Robin Williams, and at one point, he mentioned that Robin Williams never felt that he was as brilliant as others considered him. And we all know how tragically that ended….
Impostor syndrome is rampant in our driven, look-at-my-idyllic-Instagram-life culture. It’s really a belief that others think you are perfect (or at least have your life together way better than most), while underneath, you just know you’re a Hot Mess™. And you will do anything and everything to keep others from finding out that you’re a hot mess. Because you’re an obliger and you really don’t want to disappoint them.
I really can’t put my finger on when the shift started for me, but I suspect the timing coincided with my breakdown on the 110. There was definitely a realization that my hot mess was going to cause some collateral damage.
Addressing the mess isn’t always pretty, and it can take a lot of detours … and a realization that addressing the first part of the definition is perhaps even more important than cleaning up your mess: you’re assuming you know what others think about you.
What if they really don’t think about you the way you think they do? Or what if they aren’t thinking about you at all?
There is a naiveté? an arrogance? in the belief that the universe is focused on us, and one of the most freeing and empowering realizations is that it’s not. Because if nobody’s really paying attention, maybe we can let some of our perfectionism go?
I think that the ability to make this observation does not come easily to us when we’re younger. Our brains are wired to jump to the conclusion that our version of reality—how we see the world and others in it—is the reality.
We need to live long enough and pay close enough attention to others to see that as unique as we are, we’re not necessarily special. (Check out my friend Andrea Catherine’s recent podcast with Kate Berry for more on this topic.)
From my past life as a language teacher, I love to think about words and how changing one small word can change an entire thought. (And for more on this, check out my friend Audrey Groeschel’s interview with me on her podcast.)
After pondering the difference, I think I see it this way: “unique” is empowering, and it can be validated from within—we can intuit that we are not like others; “special” feels like it could become a burden, like it needs external validation. And that’s where we can run into trouble with impostor syndrome.
All this to say that one of the many things I love about being at middle age is that it’s easier to let go of feeling like an impostor, to understand that even if I am the most perfect, crunchy, juicy, ripe apple in the world, there are some people who just don’t like apples.
They might prefer pears. I’ll be honest: I’m not a very good pear—I’m a bit mushy.
And that’s okay … because I’m still a perfect apple, and I can choose to not even try to be a pear.
Leave a comment below or email me and let me know about your experience with impostor syndrome and whether there has been a shift around it in middle age.