It’s Never Too Late to Put Yourself First: Making Your Needs a Priority at Any Age

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“Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”

–Franklin D. Roosevelt

We Are All Prisoners of Our Own Minds

As Americans we have a great deal of freedom, but many of us are prisoners. We’re imprisoned by ideas that hold us back from seeing the countless options available to us. These ideas keep us trapped in cages constructed by a cultural discourse that makes us believe we’re free when in reality we’re just waiting for someone to release us from captivity and tell us what to do next. We’re imprisoned by views, beliefs, ideas that tell us that it’s too late, we’re too old, we can’t do it. What we don’t realize is that these ideas are the collective opinions of others, not objective truth. At some point, we can no longer hear our own voice in the mix; so time passes and we remain prisoners.

Your geographical location, your generation, your culture, religion, family of origin, etc all contribute to what options you think you have and how you see the world. There are cultural messages that tell you what is appropriate and what isn’t depending on your age, sex, race, etc. Those messages are hard to ignore, because they disguise themselves as your own thoughts, ideas, and wishes. It’s hard to know what your needs are and who you want to be when you’ve spent so much of your life listening to the voices of others that inhabit your own mind. As the Eagles song Already Gone goes, “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”

Is It Too Late For Me?

“You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late, never too sick, to start from scratch once again.”

–Bikram Choudhury

A woman in her 70s came to see me after her husband passed away. Her 3 kids were grown up and out of the house with their own families. She was lost and confused about what to do next. What was her worth if she wasn’t caring for her kids or doing what her husband wanted? To this woman, having so much freedom of choice didn’t seem like freedom at all. It felt like an actual death sentence. She would say, “What do I do now? I have no idea who I am and what I want. It is too late for me anyways.”

The current population has a longer life expectancy than ever before. Many people, from many different generations, are aging. And as they do, they’re repeatedly questioning who they are and who they want to be. My grandfather was clear minded and strong until he was 94 years old. He sometimes struggled with the newer generations and once said, “Now I know why we don’t live forever. The world changes too much. This isn’t the same place I was born into.” He didn’t give himself enough credit. He was using email, trading stocks, exercising, and playing cards with his friends every week. He was living in this new reality and slowly changing over time; without realizing it, he was part of this new world too, and he continually found new ways to enjoy himself.

Sometimes we take a stand and decide it’s time to take a good look at our lives and change. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that force us to figure out what the heck we need to do next. My client was perfectly fine with her reality of living with her husband and children. Her lifestyle fit the expectations for women in her generation and was consistent with the ideas she grew up with in her family. She took care of the kids, her house, and her husband; her husband took care of the bills and made most the major decisions. Now, she sat in my office and for the first time in 70 years had to question, “What is it that I want?” That can seem like the scariest question in the world. We think it should be freeing to be able to answer that question. We think the answer is just floating out there someplace waiting to be grabbed. We think it should be easy to answer, “What is it that I want?” or “Who am I?” or to think about “What is my passion?” We have fought many battles to be able to answer these questions for ourselves. To be free with so many options can be suffocating and feel like a lot of pressure to someone who’s never believed they have the option to ask themselves those questions or examine their lives. Once you decide it’s time to find out what you want, where do you start?

Start with Your Thoughts

Thoughts can either keep you stuck or open up opportunities for you that you never thought were possible. If you think it’s too late for you or that it’s just too much work, you’ll be trapped, unable to move forward. You can force yourself to change your thoughts and use them to lead you into uncharted territory no matter how old you are. Freedom of thoughts allows you the opportunity to follow your unrealized passions. But first, you have to get rid of the idea that freedom isn’t an option for you. You have to know that it’s possible for you to make your needs a priority.

Aging offers you the opportunity to repeatedly reinvent yourself. It can mean looking for new activities you enjoy, making emotional transformation, staying active, and forming new connections. Basically, your age doesn’t determine what you can do. Many people let their thoughts convince them that aging brings anxiety, fear, and a lack of purpose. So many of these fears come from myths about aging that are exaggerated by our culture. But the truth is that as you age, you become stronger and more resilient to life’s inevitable ups and downs, as long as you don’t become trapped in the cultural discourse that doesn’t value the good parts of aging.

Making Yourself a Priority as You Age: Tips for Finding Meaning and Joy

No matter your age, it’s important for you to continue finding meaning and joy in life. The only constant in life is change; so as you age, your life will take on different forms. Like my client, you will lose things that once occupied your time and gave your life meaning. However, contrary to what you may think, that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop moving forward. Instead, it’s an opportunity to change your ideas about aging and make time for exciting new journeys.

Small Steps

“…Small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day. So when you look back down the road. It all adds up & you know you covered some distance.”

–Katie Kacvinsky

Making your needs a priority is never a waste of time—especially if you’ve always neglected your needs. You can’t do anything about the past, so what better time than now to make new choices? It may be hard to know where to begin, so I’ve come up with some tips for getting started. Just remember: There’s no rush. Start small. You never know what you’ll enjoy until you try it.

1.    Start a new hobby, or resume a hobby you used to enjoy. This doesn’t have to be something you do every day, but at least once a week, make time for something you enjoy.
2.    Spend time with your loved ones. Play with your grandkids, make plans with family members, or take your dog for a walk.
3.    Learn something new.
4.    Volunteer or attend a local event. You can research what’s available online or through your place of worship.
5.    Take a gym class or join a club.
6.    Travel somewhere new or go on a weekend trip to a place you’ve never visited
7.    Take a scenic hike, go fishing or camping, enjoy a ski trip.
8.    Visit a museum.
9.    Take up writing. Consider starting by writing or rewriting your life story.
10.    Start reading those books you always wanted to but never had time to.
11.    Connect with friends. Make dinner or lunch plans.

No matter how old you are, there are endless possibilities for you and your life. By changing your life and making your needs a priority, you’ll start changing your thoughts about what’s possible. Then you start to do and try new things. It’s important to find activities that are both meaningful and enjoyable for you. Remember to have fun, laugh, and stay inspired.

Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier

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