Strength & Struggle: Lessons in the Art of Growth
My 40s have hit me like a freight train. Actually, that’s probably not the right analogy. That implies I’ve been flattened by my 40s, which is the opposite of the truth. Or, if I was really going to stick with that comparison I should say, “My 40s have hit me like a freight train, but I’m like one of those inflatable pop-up clowns that you can’t knock down.”
But now I’m thinking about clowns.
Maybe I should start over.
I’m on the verge of turning 42 and, while I’ve never doubted Oprah, she was right when she said years ago that your 40s are the best. Or, to quote her more directly, that her 40s were “where I've come to know that becoming more of yourself is the only route to authentic, lasting power.”
The words “boundaries” and “authenticity” have become part of my everyday vocabulary. I’ve realized that for the first 40 years of my life, I have basically been asking permission from others to live the way I want to, rather than seeking that approval from myself. I am who I am and if you don’t like it, I have a lovely front door with a cute little wreath on it that I bought for spring where you can exit.
And I’m happy.
Make no mistake, though; this happiness didn’t come without struggle. In fact, I’ve realized that it’s here because of it. I recently bought this postcard and have it hanging in my office:
What do you REALLY want out of life?
I’ve definitely entered into a new phase. I think I realized it one day when I was thinking to myself, “What is your one wish right now for your life?”
My old self would have said “happiness.” My new self said “growth.”
I’ve come to realize that happiness is fleeting…and it should be. To wish to remain in a constant state of happiness is nonsensical because to know that you’re happy, you have to know what it feels like to be unhappy or at least in a valley. It’s the moments when you are forced to sit still, evaluate, and then find a way to keep moving forward that actually serve you best.
I’ve very much been in a “seeking” stage; I’ve been digesting as many podcasts, books, and seminars as I can. Originally this was an attempt to silence all of the negative stuff that’s going on in the world (it’s a lot better to get your “news” when it comes with a good perspective, rather than shouted at you from CNN). But now I can't do without it. I'm addicted to self-discovery.
I’m back in therapy and when I made my first appointment in 3 years, I could hardly contain my excitement. I counted the days. And I must have been meant to be because during that break, my therapist wrote a book about boundaries that was EXACTLY what I needed to read.
Small Things that Lead to Big Changes
When this self-discovery phase started, I noticed an immediate shift within myself. To say that I felt better is an understatement. Reading or listening to other people’s stories and perspectives daily – even if was just for a few minutes while I ran the kids around or when I had my morning tea – gave me a peace I’d never known. I truly began to understand how insecure we all are in our own ways and how to not only overcome it, but to embrace it. How those people who have experienced the unthinkable have things to say rather than those who either haven’t or refuse to acknowledge it.
At the age of almost 42-years-old, I’ve discovered this well of strength and authenticity within myself that I didn’t even know I had. And knowing that I can dig into it at any time has made me surer of myself than I’ve ever been.
What’s been interesting about that is that it hasn’t just been the books or the podcasts that have changed me…it also has a lot to do with the people I spend time with now. Without knowing it, I’ve surrounded myself with strong women who have taught me that I no longer need to ask permission to be myself or create the life that I didn’t even know was possible.
Now I hunger for those friendships. I feel like my radar is on and I’m constantly seeking these strong women. I’m extremely vocal about what I’ve learned myself about strength and vulnerability. I can immediately see, when talking to someone about authenticity, if the lightbulb goes on. If it does, I know there’s a possible connection there.
The Concept that Changed Everything
Another part of this new connection has been church. I didn’t grow up in a religious family and, while my late husband was a dedicated Presbyterian, since he’s been gone our church attendance has been spotty at best.
But my oldest daughter wanted to go. She had some friends who attended a church nearby and so I started going with her. And while I still feel like I’m lagging in the faith department sometimes, I’ve truly enjoyed the message.
It was at one service when the pastor asked the congregation, “Do you know why trees get tall?”
That’s never something I’ve thought about, but I assumed it had something to do with water and light.
He explained that years ago, scientists created the ideal growing situation for trees in a covered facility with the perfect light and just the right amount of water. Then one day the scientists walked in and the trees that had been growing so well were all laying down. They’d all fallen.
It turns out that what makes a tree grow tall…is wind.
Wind requires the tree to develop a strong root system that will keep it upright. It’s that tension against the elements – that struggle – that actually makes the tree flourish.
Now, I know that as we stand in our own windstorm it sometimes doesn’t feel like we’re flourishing; it feels like we’re dealing with an F5 tornado. But these days I usually find myself leaning into those windstorms rather than allowing them to knock me down.
And now I know more than ever that they’re essential to my growth.