About 100 years ago, Anatole France, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1921, weighed in on the reason why change can be so challenging. He wrote, "All changes ... have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another."
As we age, for many of us anything that involves change begins to look more and more like an unwelcome intruder. External life issues (i.e., the economy, heath issues, Mother Nature, technology, etc.) have begun affecting the way we live and limiting our choices. All too often, we are prevented from things being the way we want them to be because of changes that are beyond our control.
Here are a few of my current change-inspired quotidian complaints: Whole Foods won't let me pay for groceries with a check anymore. When I call my bank, it's impossible to speak with a human being because they have been replaced by an automated voice listing a pre-recorded menu of options. The airlines won't let me take four suitcases on a cross-country flight without extra cost the way they used to.
The way all of us navigate through this internet-obsessed world seems to be more and more controlled by outside forces. And it's disconcerting that the moment I manage to master one technological system, someone (or something) somewhere updates the process, and I am instantly catapulted back to square one.
For me, one of the biggest surprises about aging has been the never-ending tide of change. When I was younger, I (rather naively) believed that a well-lived life was simply dependent on the depth and breadth of my personal and professional skill set. Back in 1985, I was deeply influenced by a thought-provoking essay written by the brilliant author and editor Michael Korda. He argued that there were certain nonnegotiable things you really needed to have "under control" by the time you reached 40. He said: "If you do the right things before you are 40, then odds are they will pay off after that watershed birthday. If you don't, then fasten your seat belts for a bumpy flight to the grave." At the time, I was still in my energetic and optimistic 30s, struggling to establish myself as an author and journalist, and in awe of Korda's illustrious career. His observations and suggestions deeply inspired me, and for years I quietly kept track of what I considered to be my Korda-driven progress, namely the following.
—Work hard to get a good education. Check.
—Chose a calling or purpose in life that fulfills you. Check.
—Learn how to develop healthy relationships at work. Check.
—Choose a partner with whom to share your future. Check.
—Understand the complexities of child-rearing. Check.
—Figure out how to nurture others without neglecting yourself. Check.
But now, after several decades, I realize that my calculated and simplistic approach to accumulating essential life skills was seriously flawed. I'd wrongly assumed that if and when I acquired or accomplished enough I could exhale and reap the rewards of my efforts. I'm embarrassed to admit (oh, gullible me) that I honestly didn't realize there would be no congratulatory exhaling because every aspect of life is in a continual state of flux .
Like millions of viewers, I was a devoted fan of Julian Fellowes' show "Downton Abbey." Each episode reminded me, in the nicest-possible way, that every era, every generation, every person lucky enough to be alive must face and adapt to never-ending changes.
Clinging too tightly to the way things used to be can be a recipe for bitter frustration. We both know that Whole Foods is never going to welcome my checkbook again, and American Airlines will never again let me bring multiple suitcases on my flight for free.
So here's the tricky part: I'm still struggling to be enlightened enough to enthusiastically embrace all the changes that I am affronted with day after day. It would be lovely if I could approach those elusive and ever-evolving life skills the way I did when I was a student. You remember the drill — work hard, finish the course, graduate and pat yourself on the back for crossing the finish line. But life is far more complicated than your average college classroom.
Change is simply an external and vibrant sign of life, and it will always be with us no matter our age. So my new goal is to work hard at being flexible rather than frustrated and intrigued rather than irritated whenever I discover that things — from the way we do banking to the way we print our boarding passes — are threatening to move on and leave me behind yet again...
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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