I was stubborn. Maybe in denial. Or hard of hearing. Or so caught up in my own view of life I couldn’t hear the alternatives, even when they were in my best interest. Whatever the resistance, suddenly, after light years of deafness, I heard the kindly advice that changed my attitude, and my life.
My definition of ‘success, which hinged on achieving the chevrons of power as I passed the milestones on the path to rich and famous, shifted to simply enjoying the ride!
It came a half century too late for the biography that describes my life in the world of nine to five, but the change has been a godsend as I embrace elderhood and live my life in refutation of the societal notion that net worth is the delineator of a person’s self-worth.
Oddly, or sadly as the case may be, ‘going with the flow,’ as we kids called it, was instinctive before I felt the pressure of expectations and the anxiety that accompanied it. When I was eleven or twelve, I took ‘acting lessons.’ I enjoyed the classes so much I traveled to New York every Saturday morning, by myself. Ten blocks walking to the Inter-city bus to Manhattan, the subway from the Port Authority crosstown and then the bus again to Rockefeller Center. It was worth it, particularly when you know who got the lead in that smash hit play that debuted in 1944, “Willie buys a war bond.” (I was terrific and the sold out audience of two dozen mothers and fathers loved the show).
It simply was fun to be on stage playing a part and being a part of a like-minded, supportive group that changed with each new cast. If I didn’t get a role, I worked backstage, helped my friends memorize their lines, and kept my copy of the scripts purchased from the Samuel French catalog in pristine condition. I never thought about becoming a star.
Jump cut to the ocean swarming with the pinstripe sharks that swam in the toxic corporate seas… and that’s all I thought about.
I had no aptitude for accounting, economics, and finance. My talent was with words, persuasive phrases, lofty ideas. Engaged in the creative process, time flew by; I was absorbed, involved, excited about doing the imaginative work that that can elevate advertising from unabashed mercantilism. But it was the “management echelon” that drove me! ‘Copywriter’ was an unsatisfying title although the job description fit me to a tee. At the very least, ‘Creative Director’ was the nameplate I wanted on the door… and why not play for the big boy trophy and add a window to the corner office where the president of the agency reigned.
I expended my energy in competing, striving, pushing to the head of the table; never good enough, always proving myself. It was all about ‘getting ahead:’ highest salary, highest profile, highest office. Resting on laurels left a passing lane open; anxiety was a constant; closing an account raised the bar for “what have you done for me lately?”
And I’m not doing that anymore!
The mantra is, “Let go of outcome.”
If one of the digital newspapers we are preparing to publish collects a million hits and a million dollars, great. If it turns out that we missed the mark, so be it, the process itself is rewarding. If “The Three Stages of Elderhood” the book I’m writing, ever gets finished, published and actually read by more people that watched my triumph as Willie the war bond kid, great. If I never finish writing it or it winds up as an unpublished manuscript, so be it, the process itself is rewarding. I am committed to achieving a positive result and I will be disappointed if it doesn’t happen; disappointed, not devastated.
The teachers who gave me this insight had been offering their wisdom for years on end. Fortunately, their classroom is open twenty-four seven and their patience is infinite. You can sit down anywhere, close your eyes, and there they are. It took a long time but finally my inner voice spoke up: “Letting go of your attachment to the outcome is freeing. It will help you to be more present with the act itself, rather than what might come. Stress, fear, doubt and tension all come from an attachment to the outcome; to how things will turn out.”
The voice continues, “Let go of how you might want things to turn out, and instead focus on how you want to show up, what is beautiful about the moment, having pride and pleasure with your effort; be curious rather than put off by the technology that is so baffling to seniors; and finally, and most important, be more loving to yourself.