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21, the Second Time Around

Recently I turned 42 – so a different way of looking at it is that I turned 21 for the second time. Viewing it like this allows me to reflect more easily on the two ages, their differences and similarities and the process of the cycles of decades that lead me to each of them. It also gave me a moment’s pause about the mind and age, and aging.

I’m glad it’s not the first time

I remember once telling a friend that I was not going to date guys who indicated that the very best time of their lives were from 17 to 21, and who pined for that time again. Why? There’s nothing wrong with having a positive past, that’s for sure, but I prefer to hang with people who prefer to ‘now’ as the best time of their life.

Interestingly, the mind is responsible for memories, interpretations and perspectives, so it’s key in how we reminisce. The mind tends to create a ‘halo’ effect over certain times of our lives (or a negative one) which means we tend to take a positive (or negative) aspects of a time in our past and expand it to include other areas, putting a gloss (or a rotten tomato) on the rest of the features of the time. For example, at 21 I probably had fewer responsibilities so seemed to have more disposable income, which I spent on myself, travel, partying, hanging out etc. I also had exams, and stress, and relationship issues and was trying to get my first ‘real’ job. On one hand, it seems like a dream vacation, on the other, it may seem like a bit of hard going. The halo effect tends to focus attention on one side or the other – good or bad. There are lots of people who tend to linger on the halo part of the past memory, and brood over it or reject it completely, rather than realize that it was a time of our life when we had experience, learned some lessons and took some of what we needed from it.

I’m still standing

Whether or not we look back with rose- or blue-coloured glasses on the past, there’s one thing for sure – we made it through. Otherwise we wouldn’t be writing/reading this right now. Otherwise, we’d have given up, passed on, disappeared. But instead, we are survivors.

I am a result of my ‘good’ and ‘bad’ choices from my past, the things I did and didn’t do, the way I perceived myself and lived my thoughts and actions based on it. I am the continuing evolution and result of my earlier life. Some of this is easy to live with while other parts of my past I live with an uneasy peace.

I sometimes feel the words of Elton John “looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid” – because even though we may appear to others that we are successful, brave… (fill in positive attribute here)… we may still be connected to our past failings, mishaps or personal label from the past. An athletic woman may still be a ‘fat girl’ in her head, a successful entrepreneur may still label himself a ‘geek loser’ because of situations in the past. Dave Elman, a great hypnotherapist said “we live our life in the light of reflected action. The things we used to do we are still doing in our minds.” So while all evidence may be to the contrary, sometimes our past is carried with us in our heads. If this supports a positive self concept, then I’m all for it. However, if this reflection is distorted in some way, we may need to change the way we look at those past events and our participation in them.

Standing on the Shoulders…

Many people know about the quote by Issac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” However, the original quote was attributed to Bernard of Chartres as “we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” So what does that mean for us and our lives?

I’ve found that over the span of my life, it is the people who make the difference in my ‘reflected action’. As one financial guru said, “our network is our net worth”, and I like to agree that most of my successes and joyful moments were not done alone. It was with family, friends, colleagues, students and clients that I have learned more than a lifetime of lessons in a short span of time. I have been helped along my path with pats on the back (or a good shove in the rear, sometimes). It is only because of them that I have seen so far, and for that, I am thankful. You might want to take a moment and think about all the ‘boosts’ you’ve received from others throughout time – maybe they deserve to be thanked or maybe they just deserve a moment of gentle reflection, these giants in our lives…

Aging begins in the mind

Once you hit your 40s (I’m sure it’s the same for 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond), I hear a lot of ageist talk –usually from people in that age bracket. “You don’t have as much energy”, “your metabolism slows down”, “wrinkles appear”, “you get that belly”, “you start having ‘senior’ moments and forget things” and an array of other thoughts, many of which I disagree with and most of which I don’t find particularly helpful.

Maybe I’m ‘lucky’, my health is great, I’m probably in better shape than I was the first time round (I’m caring for my body much better, that’s for sure), my mind is sharp (except when I’m stressed or have too many things on the conscious mind – no surprise when you know its limitations (7-9 bits of info)). But I know the power of belief and compounding (repeating something over and over and having it stick more within the mind), and so am aiming to break mental (and physical) barriers on the negative impact of age. I have seen dynamic, healthy, involved and active octogenarians – while they may be the exception rather than the rule, I choose to make their level of functioning the rule for me, instead.

Any aches and pains I can usually find cause and as I mentioned before (no, I’ve not forgotten what I wrote in the last paragraph) the conscious mind when full or occupied can temporarily drop things, so my forgetting is short-lived, especially if I say “I’ll remember that in a short while” rather than “oh, I’ve got such a bad memory” (we tend to believe what we say about ourselves). The phrase “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is true for an active mind and body. So stay young in spite of the numbers.

What I’ve learned

There’s a saying about those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I know that I’ve done that before… in a few too many areas of my life. But upon reflection, I’ve definitely learned a few things over the years. When I think back to how ‘smart’ I was when I was 21, I have to smile. I was, but little did I realize how much more I was going to learn out of the classroom – out in the world, and deep within myself. Looking at the two sets of 21s I can see that the actor is the same, but the set/plot/storyline is so different. I look forward to my 63rd birthday to reflect again.

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