The age of freedom

I got a great gift yesterday. I got spend almost the entire day with one of the people I love more than anything in the world. We spent the entire day talking about things and people that are important to us, and the time went by much too fast.

While she was spending the day with me, her daughter and the rest of her family were preparing a birthday party for her, a milestone birthday, so naturally that’s what we talked about.

She said her mom had told her about the freedom that comes with reaching a certain age. At some point (according to her mom it was this particular birthday) you stop trying so hard to please everyone else, stop letting what others may think matter so much, and, hopefully, begin valuing yourself and your peace of mind higher.

There’s an old adage about how you can’t please all the people all the time. It goes on to say you can’t really even please most of the people even most of the time. And yet many of us, from the time we’re small, try to do just that ~and often drive ourselves crazy in the process. We get depressed, frustrated, angry ~ and for what?

Somehow we can just never be “enough.” Thin enough, tall enough, pretty enough, dress well enough, work hard enough, make enough money. We don’t like our hair, skin tone, body shape, voice, face, eye color, fill in the blank.

The truth is, most of these perceived deficits are only real to ourselves. Those around us don’t see these imperfections, and in fact, often envy those characteristics we most despise.

Yet it doesn’t matter how often someone tells you you’re beautiful the way you are–what matters is what we tell ourselves.

What has this got to do with that “certain age” I was talking about earlier? Well, when you reach a certain age, if you are wise, you learn to seek out more positive things to tell yourself and try to avoid negativity as much as possible.

And at that certain age, you begin to realize that all of these things that you think are so obvious to other people and that you think they might disapprove of or angry with you because of don’t, in fact, exist anywhere outside your own mind.

This is something I’ve been trying to learn for a long time ~ it’s a truth expressed in one of my favorite books: The Four Agreements. And I recently discovered ~ this morning actually ~ yet another expression of the same truth in a book I’m currently reading: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. He has this to say about what other people think of us:

I realize now that people are not thinking about you and me or caring what is said about us. They’re thinking about themselves–before breakfast, after breakfast, and right on until 10 minutes past midnight. They would be 1000 times more concerned about a slight headache of their own than they would about the news of your death or mine.

He was talking about worrying about unjust criticism, but the principle remains the same across the board: probably 99% of what people say or do (or don’t do) that makes you worried or upset has nothing to do with you.

More importantly, probably 99% of what you’re afraid people will say about you or think about you, will never happen — because people are not thinking about you and me.

That’s a very freeing realization. One that comes with age and experience ~ and that is the gift of that certain age, whatever that age may be for you.

I just wish it was a lesson that some of us (uh, that would be me) didn’t have to keep learning over and over.

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