Recently, I was on a flight from the West Coast to the Midwest. Actually I was on the plane, parked at the LA airport for over an hour before they rounded up the full crew so we take off. At that point, between returning my rental car, getting singled by security for a thorough search, boarding and waiting for take off, the time spent waiting to take off was as long as the next leg of the journey--the flight home.
Why do I tell this boring tale that is familiar to everyone who travels? Because I've finally learned how to keep my blood pressure down and my stomach calm when faced with circumstances I have no control over. Now don't get me wrong, the experience was neither fun nor funny. However I finally have absorbed the wisdom of that simple phrase, "it isn't so much what happens to you, it's how you deal with it."
In the hundreds of interviews about the aging process that I've conducted for my books and public radio broadcasts, one theme has emerged. If your attitude is affirmative, open, and flexible, you can make changes that will have a positve effect on your life. Yes, of course there are far greater challenges to maintaining a postive attitude then delayed travel. For instance, at the age of 59, a man named Jacob had a quadruple bypass, that wasn't entirely successful, and was quite ill for a long time. Here's his story in his own words.
"It took me almost a year to get back on my feet. Being sick made me feel useless and out of touch with the workplace that I so much enjoyed. Taking advantage of my many years of education, I decided to become a partime consultant. After three years I was waiting for a new challenge to come along. Then, at our family holiday dinner, my daughter talked of her classes in law school. I remember whining about wishing I could do that and she challenged me asking, "Why can't you?" I took her challenge seriously and to my surprise, I did very well on the exam and was accepted into law school.
I learned a lesson I now teach, that the first step, even a small one, often mobilizes a reservoir of energy that sets us on a course with the potential for changing our lives completely. My excuses melted away and I realized that nothing does it like doing it! My proudest moment came during the commencement exercise that my wife, brother, sister, children and grandchildren attended. When my name was called, the whole audience got up and clapped.
There was a story about me in the local newspaper and I was immediately offered a job with one of the city's biggest legal advocacy organization to handle cases involving older people... For many years I worked twenty-five hours a week, I gave legal advice to social workers and others who have direct contact with poor disabled, and in need of guidance to get the services they were entitled to receive. Instead of acting like a victim, I now was a victim's advocate. I think most people in my original situation might expect to turn up their toes and prepare to die but I proved to myself that risk taking, determination, and hard work, could accomplished for me what I truly wanted. Attitude does affect outcome and the responsibility of making a choice is always yours."
Things like losing your driver's license or having to give up salt may not seem to be of the same magnitude as recovering from open-heart surgery or taking radiation therapy treatments. Yet when you encounter challenges that seem to threaten your sense of control, finding the will to face those challenges can lead to life-affirming choices.
The aging process is not a contest to prove that you are who you used to be. Whether it's recognizing the need for a hearing aid or adjusting your weekend warrior ways, we all have to respect our limitations and adjust accordingly. Jacob's story had a fairy tale ending (although he's now left his part time job and takes on clients in a consultant capacity) but each of us face our own small and large challenges every day.
I can only repeat what I've heard so many times from so many people: Be honest with yourself and respect and accept that reality. Our bodies change as we get older, and age inevitably begins to have an impact on our choices, not to mention our spirit and emotions.
How we respond to major events and life-altering changes, as well as the minor irritations that occur daily, matters much more than does the specific events. Outlook does affect outcome.
Connie Goldman is an award-winning radio producer and reporter and the author of five books that deal with aging issues, including Who Am I Now That Im Not Who I Was? Conversations with Women in Midlife and Beyond and Secrets of Becoming a Late Bloomer. For more information, visit her website, congoldman.org.