You never lose your power. Some of us misplace it or believe it’s diminished over time. We might need a lot of shaking and stirring to bring it to the surface. Then we rinse, dry, polish, and put it back where it belongs. Any place we want.
We’re all essentially the same person we were in childhood. Life weakens and fortifies us. We crawl out of swamps and bask in the light of our accomplishments. And we all break, but the miracle is that most of us mend. We recover from setbacks and illnesses of the mind and body. We may not seem the same on the surface, to ourselves or others, and we may develop a few gnarly habits. Nevertheless, our power is with us. And we’re whole enough.
This is truly true. All the strength you need to survive and thrive is in you. A lot of people believe our capacity fades over time, especially employers. And truth be told, many of our friends and family feel the same way. The collective message is a foghorn.
When you paddle hard through middle age, you might forget what you are capable of. You may not be as fast as you were in your teens, you may regularly forget things and struggle with word retrieval, but deep down you’re still 100% you. No less, maybe more.
Being a tortoise, instead of a hare, seems like a good thing. Who wins the race? I’m not saying we’re tortoises, but I would suggest that wisdom and persistence is a winning combination. My Aunt Kay always beat me in tennis because she knew where to place the ball. No amount of lung capacity or speed could overcome her acquired-over-time skill at lobbing the ball to the back line or gently inching the ball inches over the net. She started playing tennis in her thirties. I started playing tennis when I eight-years-old.
Knowing I have the power I had as a child is a substantial revelation. I unearthed it courtesy of being lashed a like clapboard home in a hurricane. So many things unraveled this year. Good things and really bad things happened. At my lowest point, I realized that I was still the person who defied sweet nuns and forged her own way, set goals with a singleness of purpose, and rarely entertained failure. I am still the person who applied to one college and set her sights on one job at one place.
In my fifties, while my contemporaries were empowered by aging, I focused more on failure than achievement. I sat, and even laid down, in all the rotten expectations for women. Vitality, youthful beauty, a slim body, fashionable (and odd) attire, and a narrow view of what it means to achieve. Also, I completely missed the memo about letting go of insecurities in your fifties even though I read plenty of reflections in popular magazines about women who were liberated in middle age. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen to me. I felt inferior.
At age 61, as a result of some serious setbacks, I found the buried power I desperately needed. I couldn’t believe it was still there, and couldn’t believe I let it go.
Life’s trials haven’t necessarily made me a better person. A little bit better, but they’ve helped me resurrect my power. I feel it when I shake off petty insults and make decisions with confidence. And when I put the worst news in the proper perspective. I’m pretty sure I can stand up to any challenge.
Now, for some confessions. These are a few of the regrettable things I’ve done for conventional reasons. Times when my power was dialed low by outside forces. I regret getting Botox treatments three times. I’m sorry I wore Spanx a lot or applied dangerously old mascara rather than none at all. I wish I never checked the size of someone’s engagement ring, always, or noted the brand of car he or she drove, always. And, oh my God, I feel stupid for judging people’s intelligence by the college they attended or type of job they have. Most of all, I deeply regret not spending more time with people who are different than me. I would have learned so much more about being and living.
I probably have a decent amount of time left for improvement. It should be a little bit easier now that the power is with me for good.
Emma Goldman, this post is for you. I named you after the anarchist and teacher Emma Goldman. However, I frequently let conventional rules guide my choices for you. Something Emma Goldman would never do. It’s an irony you can undo.