“How do I start this journey of self-care and self-love, after spending a life focused on others?”
This comment was on a recent article of mine for Sixty and Me and resonated so much that I promised to respond. So many women reach this age and are suddenly widowed or divorced (by choice or not). Or moved to a new place late in life.
When we arrive at the magical Six-Oh, many things have shifted. Empty nests, sometimes empty beds, offspring and grands scattered to the four winds, often friends have passed, and some friendships pass into memory.
This article is for those of you who have indicated that you have no clue who you are, nor where you fit, and what on earth to do with that, now that your role as family matron/caregiver/banker (okay, that never stops) has come to and end. Or appears to.
The Transformation Begins
If you chose to marry, have kids, and raise a family, your middle years might have been so jammed and crammed that you ached for a little “me” time.
How swiftly all that gets forgotten when suddenly, circumstances collaborate to hand you that very thing: alone time.
Perhaps a little too much of it.
It can feel as though you’ve been set out on a empty ocean, in a craft you have no clue how to skipper.
Of course you’re scared.
But at the same time, this transition into the most extraordinary years of our lives is full of magic. It begins with where we focus.
In any journey, you and I have to push off from the dock. Usually, we can come home.
When we age, and we enter the time of greatest transition, there is no returning to those familiar spaces. The signposts change or disappear altogether. This is why it takes such courage to move forward.
Which means, if we are going to go journeying, we have to untie from the dock and push off.
You Are Already the Skipper
The disorientation that happens at first is the compulsion to take care of. Usually, anyone but ourselves. Without kids or grands or hubby or sister or the business, suddenly we can feel adrift, because it feels as though nobody needs us.
Someone does indeed need you. That person looks back at you from the mirror every single morning. It can feel a bit terrifying when you realize that all that time you wanted for you, now you have it. How on earth to fill it? Especially if you buy the societal message that to take care of ourselves is selfish?
Well, if we don’t, kindly, who will?
By this I mean, if you and I don’t tend to our exercise, diet, societal, and emotional needs, nobody else will. Sure, we might date or marry someone. Ultimately, it is our obligation to take care of ourselves, particularly if you and I have allowed ourselves to slip a bit while caring far too much for others and putting critical self-care to the side.
Where on earth do you start? First, assume you already know everything you need to know. You do. You’ve spent your first six-plus decades learning those skills. Now put them to work.
Moving into Your New Future
This year I left my home in Colorado after 50 years and moved to Eugene. The move itself was the culmination of a thousand big and small things. Giving things way, donating, selling. If you’ve ever managed a big move, you know how it goes.
Same thing here. Think of it as uncluttering you.
If you use the advice from an article by Psychology Today as a guide, these steps will serve you well:
Determine What Things You Value the Most About Your Life
Rather than ask what everyone else wants to eat, what do YOU want to eat? What do YOU want to watch or read or listen to? Where do YOU want to travel when it’s safe to do so?
Decide What Commitments Are Most Important to You
First, to yourself, then, in descending order, determine what to commit to: your dog, cat, kids (maybe in that order) …?
Assess the Way You Use Your Time
What a terrific opportunity to ask what you want to do with your time. Just… YOU. Including nothing.
Get Rid of Clutter in Every Area of Your Life
This goes for old values, old ideas, attitudes, angers and irritations, and attachments and bad habits that are not useful to you. Clutter in your mind, heart, and soul. Stories about you and your value that badly need rewriting or outright deleting. Your value isn’t being decided by your (husband, family, church, etc.).
Spend More Time with the People That Matter to You
First, yourself. What a time to get to know the rhythm and flow of your thoughts and emotions. How you change during the day. How you prefer to sleep (or stay up all night). Then, if you’re starting anew, what kinds of folks do you want in your world?
Make Time to Be Alone
If you are alone, be fully present. Enjoy the sweet silences, the quiet, birdsong, waves, distant chatter, wind chimes. Explore the textures of quiet. Remember when this was something you yearned for. And now you have it.
I would add this: You are worth feeding well, exercising with love, and giving yourself a brand new way to keep yourself happily preoccupied, as well as surrounded by good friends. Those are the four primary pillars of aging vibrantly.
Let the dock disappear. Concentrate on that beckoning horizon. You might find yourself happily tossing that emotional ballast so that the wind can fill your sails.
This is your time.
I hope you enjoy the sweet breezes in your hair, the sun on your skin, and the smile creasing your cheeks.
What have you learned as you’ve settled into your 60s and beyond? What tips and tools can you offer those who are recently single, newly moved, and in need of a little guidance? How has faith in yourself helped you along the way? Please share with the rest of us.