Alice Outwater

Alice Outwater, PhD, Contributor

It takes courage and stamina to age. More so than I thought. I realize the many nuisance habits that never served me when I was younger are still staring me in the face. In fact some have become quite a vexation.

At college I procrastinated about starting assigned papers but always managed to skid in before the deadlines. The papers could have been outstanding if I’d allotted more time to research parts of them. This trait was coupled with my lackadaisical self-discipline.

These same irksome motifs still cling to me like sticky tape I can’t peel them off. And now, when my memory isn’t as sharp and energy is lessening, these idiosyncrasies tug me backwards. I’m taking a hard look and am determined to straighten these inclinations out. But with decades of use, the changes become more arduous.

These patterns can affect my decision-making. I must be clear about constructing wise choices. My husband previously handled the purchase of cars and managed our investments while running them by me. Somehow I’ve bumbled along and managed without John, thanks to having good people advise me.

I remind myself to keep my eye on the larger picture and overall goals: myself and our children. I prefer letting options sit for a while and returning to them several times a week. I talk them over with people I trust. New possibilities sometimes come up. And then finally I act.

Nothing is 100 percent, so if you settle for 80 percent or more, you’re doing well. Then let any regrets go. Once you’ve gone through the steps and acted, the time for what-ifs has passed and becomes wasted energy.

This method worked out well for me in selling my two properties: being clear – and realistic. Both properties were too large for me; the upkeep had become daunting and I couldn’t do it properly. Repairs and seasonal chores were also expensive. On and on. But I needed new courage to act alone. At times doing nothing seemed the easiest route. I forced myself to get out of old habits and create a new future for myself. Once the buyers came and the contracts were signed, the rest was momentum. I had to get down to the task of emptying the houses.

I reread some of my favorite poems of Robert Frost recently and knew he was writing “The Road Less Traveled” for me. How I’ve loved through the ages that fork in the road and taking the one less traveled. I’ve always longed for adventure and still do, but I must be cautious and, heaven forbid, not rash. The familiar path now is likely the better choice. Yet I yen to welcome new possibilities, a fresh landscape that creates untried ideas.

To pursue such a path involves decision making. When younger I could let some things slide, with few consequences. Now I feel more compelled to set things right. Recently I was at the gym and saw a much younger friend lifting his 50-lb. iron weights. I knew he had admirably handled many difficult personal and family matters thrust at him. I asked if he had come to peace with his mother who had lived nearby. They’d had an antagonistic relationship, and being overwhelmed himself, he had given up on her. The years had run by with no communication.

In a daring move he finally contacted her. By then she was frail and in a retirement facility. He began to see her regularly—and was amazed how pleasant these drop-in visits became. Undoubtedly they both had changed. “I took my iPad and would play her favorite music. We talked about the happier times as I grew up. I was startled how proud she was of me. She died recently,” he said quietly.

I didn’t need more details but found my eyes tearing up. “That first visit must have taken tremendous courage,” I said. He nodded and added, “Yes, I was finally able to summon up a bold spirit within me. I was surprised I had it. And it makes a huge difference to me now that she’s gone. At last I have a feeling of completeness.” He bent down to pick up the weights. I returned to the rowing machine and thought how powerful reassessing relationships and opening one’s heart can be.

It’s prudent, if not urgent, to check your own connections to others and find areas that need tidying up before more time passes. Start brushing out those nooks and crannies. It may give you a fresh take on your life and allow you to welcome new possibilities into those cleared-out spaces.