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Perfectionism and Aging

August 1, 2011

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you insane your whole life.”   ~ Anne Lamott

Figuring out who we are, and what we are supposed to be doing, is a lifelong process…an ever-changing progression of near hits and misses.  I have lived much of my life under the illusion that one day I would “arrive” and find myself comfortable and at peace with the person I have become. I believed that if I worked diligently to uncover the truth about life, about my gifts, about who I really am and who I was born to be, then I would know what to do in order to live in peace and die without regret.

Suffice it to say I am a bit of an idealist, and like all things, this propensity has it’s good points and it’s bad. The up side is that my idealism propels me to keep searching and working to reach the goal of authenticity. I can’t seem to give up trying no matter how many times life knocks me down or another ugly truth rears its head. The down side is also that I keep trying, keeping reaching, keep striving for something more, something better, something “more me”…like the ideal in my head. Not going to happen.

Sadly, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one on this endless and often exhausting journey.  Everywhere I look, women who are facing the aging process are either trying to do the impossible…live forever…or putting their head in the sand. They pick up the pace with their exercise, diet, weight loss, supplements, medications and face lifts in a frantic effort to stop the clock.  Others run away from their mortality by throwing caution to the wind. They throw out their clothes, their husbands, their jobs, their homes and head for the mountains, the seas, and the Far East. If they go far enough away from who they were maybe they’ll be someone else entirely, someone who can live forever. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either approach and sometimes it’s exactly what needs to happen, but often it’s just a postponement of the inevitability of facing oneself and staring down the demons that keep us from inner peace.

We each have to choose our own way of dealing with the aging process. There is no right or wrong answer. There are a couple of things, however, that might be worth considering.  First, it is helpful to remember that our ideals are only a guide, our beacon in the night sky, not our must-achieve-destination. If we allow ourselves to become caught up in obtaining our ideal we may begin to believe that we actually can and we will be  destined to fail. In the process, we will miss all the good-enough along the way.

Secondly, if are only looking outside of ourselves for direction, we will again miss the mark. All  of the answers to life’s mysteries can be found inside ourselves, our body, mind and souls. They will never be found in the world, in another person, in our job, our home, our family, our career, our religious beliefs, our education, our achievements and accolades. The externals do have value in that they are fodder for our soul and mirrors that reflect our inner truth, if  dare to see the connection.

Aging authentically is not easier or more difficult than striving for authenticity at any other time of life. What is different is that we are gradually growing into an acute awareness that time is running out. We also, however, have a whole lot more information about ourselves and the world than we had at any other time in our lives. We also always have truth and beauty within our reach. Though life will sometimes cast doubt on our ideals, we must continue to hold them up as what they are…a beacon of light in the dark.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2011 5:59 pm

    How expressive “our beacon in the night sky”!

    • August 2, 2011 8:52 am

      Kay, you are one of my most beloved inspirations. I always appreciate your comments.

  2. August 1, 2011 7:16 pm

    Wow, Dorothy! As a 63 year old ‘recovering’ perfectionist, I think you nailed it. Thank you for this thought provoking article.

    • August 2, 2011 8:51 am

      I appreciate your comment Connie. I like that “recovering” perfectionist, maybe I still have hope! 🙂

  3. Sophie Lumen permalink
    August 1, 2011 8:04 pm


  4. August 1, 2011 9:23 pm

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post,Dorothy. Yes, “growing into the acute awareness that time is running out” certainly is a motivator to stand in our own truths.

  5. August 4, 2011 3:37 pm

    Great article. But, I want to add something. There is a proverb which says “it’s good to dream. If that dream comes true, it will be great. And if it doesn’t , it will be enough that we lived happy even for few seconds dreaming about it.” Well, I think it’s the same idea for perfectionism. Maybe we can never attain perfectionism. But, at least, we’ve lived happy even for few seconds aspiring to it.

  6. August 5, 2011 4:11 pm

    Another great post, Dorothy! You are tapping into your deep wisdom in your writing these days.

    • August 8, 2011 5:26 pm

      You think it will guide me through the next decade Bonnie??? 🙂 I think I’m going to need you for that!

  7. August 8, 2011 10:37 pm

    Yes, Dorothy, I do think your wisdom will guide you through the next decade. Look at all it’s taken you through so far. And, if I can somehow help you, I’d be delighted and honored to do so.


  1. When Trees Begin to Bud | Aging Abundantly | Women Over Fifty | Empty Nesters | Caregivers | Aging Gracefully

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