Trusting Yourself

A post for women in their 40s and up.

Life rarely goes in a straight line. The perfect partner turns out to be not so perfect. Maybe we have kids now. We go through a long, expensive program to get a great job and find, when we graduate, that the hiring doors are shut. Our health isn’t as solid as we expected, our bodies aren’t cooperating with our goals, and everything is so much harder than when we were kids.

(On the other hand, for some of you reading this, maybe right now, today, everything is way better than you ever dreamed it could be: you have the perfect everything! And that is terrific to experience. I’m frankly jealous, if that’s your situation, and happy for you at the same time. May it last and last and last.)

No matter what the specific circumstances, our priorities and expectations have probably shifted pretty radically from when we were eighteen. The world around us has changed just as radically. And that’s okay.

We can’t go backward to the “simpler time” before cell phones and internet. The current gig economy sucks, but “back in the day” had its own limitations. While we might have been able to stay with one company for a lifetime career, we pretty much had to take that path or be seen as unreliable. Nobody wanted an employee that would likely quit after two years; that was damn near a total loss on training investment. (This is still a problem for younger women in the workplace today, because, urgh, babies! Aren’t you glad that now you’re past 30, you’re probably also past the worst of that insidious assumption?) Nowadays, frequent job switching hardly raises an eyebrow, as long as the gap between doesn’t stretch too long.

I remember the world before smartphones and ubiquitous Internet access. It was …. limited. Today, we can learn another language for free in five minutes a day through an app on our smartphones. We can learn how to DIY thousands of things. We can find world-wide communities that share our niche interests. We don’t (usually) have to make a trip to the library and look through books page by page to find the one tiny bit of information we’re after. Folks with limited time and transportation aren’t as held back by those things today.

I might have done better in school if I didn’t have to take the long way around to get research done. Then again, I might have gotten caught up in Snapchat and Instagram and flunked out completely. It was a near go a couple times, as it was – that fact doesn’t show up in the final grades on my old report cards, because I’m really good at scrambling at the last minute to save my ass. As far as the records are concerned, I was a good student overall.

That doesn’t mean squat today, of course. Nobody looks that far back. So why should we? If we’re still thinking about what happened in high school, still giving it any importance at all, whether it’s a star trophy at sports or a failing grade in math, the bullies that called us names or the teachers that adored us, we’re missing the point.

We’re still alive. That means anything happening now, today, is ours and ours alone. It’s not controlled by teachers or peers. It’s not under the supervision of parents, siblings, grandparents, or the neighbor next door. Our lives are our own, through and through.

(If you want to push back on that statement, pause a moment and think about it. Yeah, we have obligations. But we’ve made the choice, somewhere along the line, to accept them and to see them through. Give yourself credit for the strength involved in making that choice. There are folks out there who faced that same choice and turned their backs. Also, see the caveat below.)

The skill we need to practice and practice and practice today – is trusting ourselves. We’ve gathered enough experience. We’ve learned enough. We’ve done enough. We’ve got the tools – gods, we have so many tools right now, that our mothers and grandmothers and back on into the Stone Age would have killed to get.

I’m not saying we can do anything, just by setting our intentions properly; that’s complete bullshit. But we have options, and every one of those options is based on our trusting ourselves enough to give them a try. So what if we fail? We can get back up, look up on the Internet to find out what went wrong if we don’t already know, and find a path for either trying again or picking a different option.

What-should-be-an-obvious-caveat: There are still a lot of very real barriers out there, involving racism, classism, medical issues, infrastructure issues, and a whole lot more. I’m not minimizing those. They’re serious, they make our options fewer and harder; it’s not right, and it’s not fair. I believe we all need to educate ourselves on those barriers and work together to bring them down. But that’s a whole other post worth of ranting.

One final point: Trusting ourselves does not equate to never asking for help. It doesn’t mean everything is magically easy. It means that we create a bedrock to stand on, and build up a resilience that lets us get back up and try again, and again, and again. If we need medication to get that baseline strength put into place, well and good; if we don’t, well and good. But whatever it takes, we build it. And stand up, and go forward to see where the road ahead brings us.

Life isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a straight line. After all … where would be the fun in that?