I wonder if we acknowledge the remarkable capacity we have for change. Internal change. The kind where we used to do these things and think these things and attest to being this sort of person—and now we do other things and think other things and come to see that we are not in that original box after all.
Of course, there is the kind of change that feels inevitable, brought on by aging bodies and shifting life circumstances. I think we do have a sense of that, mostly as something outside our control.
And there is the fast change, the dramatic shift, the thing that happens when you make a huge choice, and you commit, and you gut it out as you change direction in a moment. We tend to romanticize this kind of change—at least I do—and then get frustrated when we try it and burn out.
I guess I’m talking about slower change. About an evolution of self that starts and stops, that feels like failure so many times, that demands patience whether you want to give it or not. Change that takes so long and is made up of so many small moments that we may not even name it, even after it’s complete, even though we worked very hard for it over many years.
Once a stay-up-late-at-night, run-on-adrenaline-and-caffeine-and-stress, see-sleep-as-optional sort of person. Now an-eight-hours-almost-every-night, no-caffeine-ever, uses-too-long-adrenaline-spikes-as-a-red-flag kind of person.
Once an always-late-for-everything, sorry-I-made-you-wait, I’ll-just-squeeze-in-one-more-thing sort of person. Now very often the first person to arrive, and almost never the last.
Once a take-it-all-personally, lash-out-when-threatened-and-lash-out-hard, why-me-why-me-why-me sort of mindset. Now pausing first, and the pause can change everything.
Any of these, all of these, all of my changes, all of yours—they could be chalked up to getting older, getting wiser. To that inevitable sort of shift I mentioned. But I don’t think that tells the whole story. Maybe we see these shifts happen as we get older because they take time.
Time to try. And fail. And try again. And fail. And try again and again and again.
Time to experiment. To see where the edges are, the causes and effects. What is a pivot point and what doesn’t actually matter at all.
Time to recalibrate. To look at ourselves in new ways as people who need something different than we thought we needed. As people who can be something different than we thought we could be.
I feel a little mundane with this example, but it’s on my mind, so: This week, after many weeks of intense work and home life, our house was a hot mess. Stuff everywhere. Chaos. And dirt. For so many years of my life, I operated in that state in my room, my apartment, my house. Since I was a kid. For a long time, it was part of my identity—the ability to excel in a state of chaos. And I still have that ability. I can do it.
But now I know I don’t like to. Now I know that I feel better when things are in order around me. And now I know that the fact that I feel better matters, even if my external results are the same.
So this week, I stepped out of the crunch of deadlines and emails and expectations for a few hours, and I got my house in order again.
That took a long time. Not the few hours I spent that day. The stops and starts over the better part of two decades. And there were so many failures that I couldn’t see that gradual change was happening, even though it absolutely was. And that’s the way it’s gone with changes in how I handle my stress, in my relationship to envy, in the things I eat and drink, too. So slow I couldn’t tell I was getting anywhere new for the longest kind of time. I hope some of the other changes I’ve been working toward for so long are in progress, too, even if I can’t see it yet.
What does it matter, whether we attribute this kind of change to getting older? Or whether we notice our capacity for it at all?
I think because it takes away our agency, and then we are tempted to resign ourselves to things that we don’t have to resign ourselves to.
And because it’s important in this superduperfastworld to remember that hard things take time, consistency, re-starting—and they are still possible—so let’s keep going.
And because we are sort of amazing creatures, and taking the long view gives us such a cool perspective on that.
And maybe most of all because recognizing our own capacity for change over long periods of time, over stretches of effort and inattention, offers us both challenge and grace. And reminds us to offer those things to the people around us.