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Lessons From a Lifetime Spent Living Outside My Comfort Zone

I still remember the terror I felt the first time I went outside my comfort zone.

I was three years old.

I hadn’t gone there intentionally. I was pushed. The fact that the pushing wasn’t intentional, either, didn’t matter. I was still terrified. That moment forever changed me. And changed the course of my life.

First things first. What is a comfort zone? It’s a place where things are familiar to you. A place that feels comfortable to you. No two comfort zones are the same. One person’s comfort zone might be another person’s greatest fear. I know this to be true. My comfort zone — what’s familiar to me — often elicits a fear response from people. How I choose to live makes most of my loved ones scared for me.

There’s a question that begs here. If comfortable feels good, what’s wrong with feeling comfortable? Well, nothing, in one sense. And everything in another. It’s great to feel comfortable. But not all the time, and not in everything in your life.

You see, feeling comfortable can become a problem. Or, more precisely, feeling TOO comfortable can. It makes you take things for granted. It makes you stop exploring yourself, what you’re capable of. It makes you afraid the minute you stop feeling comfortable. It limits you.

I’m making you feel uncomfortable right now. By talking about it. But, bear with me while I illustrate what I’m talking about.

Think about the early days in your serious intimate relationships. When you first started getting serious, you were pushed outside your comfort zone. Way outside. You felt so open, and vulnerable. Your guard was down. But you were OK with it because it felt SO good there. The exhilaration you felt from falling in love with someone was stronger than any fear you felt. Your fear was on hold. For a while. Then, one day, you started to feel uncomfortable. You might not have known why, but you knew how to respond to this feeling. You pulled back in some way. Your discomfort at being outside your vulnerability comfort zone made you afraid.

How did you pull back when afraid? By taking the other for granted, choosing to see the flaws, instead of the wonder. By not exploring your vulnerable self, choosing to shut down, instead of opening more. By putting up your guard, choosing to limit yourself, instead of growing.

You’re squirming now.

Lesson one: get to know your comfort zone

If you want to move outside it, you need to get to know your comfort zone. Intimately. To know its core rules, and its more nuanced ones.

My comfort zone is a place where making changes is routine. So to go outside my comfort zone, I have to get very deliberate. And go big. Things that happen on a daily basis rarely send me there, such is my comfort with change. I also have to be interested in an area before I’m willing to extend my comfort zone in it. Extreme sports, for example, have never interested me, so I put in no effort there. But I’m drawn to push my physical activity boundaries in other ways. This is one of the more nuanced rules.

Over the years, I discovered that if I decided to explore a new facet of my life, nothing got in my way. Except for in one area. I did everything to avoid pushing out my boundaries in one area for 30 years.

Love.

Going to that place of real, deep, unconditional love with a significant other. Love terrified me because being vulnerable terrified me. Being open to scrutiny at such a deep level was too far outside my comfort zone. I couldn’t go there. At least not until I did the necessary self-work. Considerable effort later, love no longer has me running scared. Love has me opening up more and more every day. Unconditional. Vulnerable. And it’s wonderful.

Time for you to examine your own comfort zone. Thinking back over your adult life so far, ask yourself:

  • Which things feel easy to you? Easy in the sense that they provoke little or no fear in you?
  • Which things make you feel scared? Scared when you’ve done them, or scared when you think or hear about them?
  • What have you instinctively tended to avoid doing? And why? (Like me and extreme sports.)
  • Are there people in your life who live in ways that make you feel uncomfortable? This may manifest in different ways. By your making judging comments about decisions they make. By your rolling your eyes when they tell you what they’re going to do next. By your telling them why they’re wrong to be doing whatever.

Have a look at your answers, looking for common themes. Take a step back, and see what it tells you about your comfort zone. You should have a picture of what it looks like.

Lesson two: change is good

I’m not saying this because making changes is within MY comfort zone. I’m saying it because making changes is how you grow. Moving beyond your comfort zone is how you grow.

I’d go so far as to say that beyond your comfort zone is where all personal growth lives.

If you do the same thing you’ve always done, day in, day out, you won’t grow. In fact, you barely think when you do this. Yet an astoundingly large number of people live like this. Because they don’t like change. Because they fear change.

Instead of fearing change, you should fear not changing. The things you fear about change are imagined. The things that happen when you avoid change are real.

Here’s what’s real about them. And why avoiding change will cause you trouble down the road. First, you won’t grow as a person. You won’t live up to your amazing potential. And I know your potential is truly amazing. Second, you’ll get bored. When you’re bored, you’ll distract yourself to avoid feeling that way. And your distractions won’t be good for you. Sugary treats, alcohol, binge watching TV shows, shopping for things you don’t need. Being bored for any length of time stresses you out. So you go into autopilot mode to deal with that. And autopilot mode numbs your feelings. All of them.

It’s time to make a choice. Do you want your life to be defined by fear? Or defined by personal growth?

Lesson three: how to get more comfortable doing more things

Moving the boundaries of your comfort zone takes effort. A whole lot of it. But, here’s the truth. If I can learn to embrace unconditional love after 30 years of avoiding it, you can learn to embrace anything!

I’m going to share with you the secret to making changes in your life. Start small. Start with something that is low on your scariness scale. And that won’t take too long to complete.

I used to be afraid of heights. So terrified of them that, as a kid, I’d rather face the ridicule of my peers than jump off anything high. My mother, a nurse, had put the fear of god in me when I was four. I’d been found walking across the parapet of a bridge with a 200-foot drop on one side. So she described, in very gory detail, what I’d look like if I fell and went splat.

One day a few years ago, I knew it was time to make a change in my life. To overcome this fear of heights. As a result of my daily meditation practice, I’d realized my fear was all in mind. That it was more imagined than real. So I set about moving past it. I started by improving my balance, walking along as many low walls as I could find. Then I started choosing higher walls. And finally, I chose something that had always added an increased level of fear. Walking on a higher wall above water. I was living in Vancouver at the time, right by the seawall. And this proved perfect as the final step to overcoming my fear of heights. With an ease that surprised me, I walked along long stretches of the seawall every day. Fear of heights gone. Comfort zone expanded.

By starting small, I’d allowed myself to get comfortable every step of the way.

What can you take on that will allow you to get comfortable with change as you move towards your fear? What’s your equivalent of my fear of heights?

Lesson four: you are more powerful than you realize.

Once you start expanding your comfort zone, something amazing happens. You feel more powerful. Your fear subsides with every boundary shift you make. And this allows your true self — your powerful self — to emerge.

You start to feel more alive. More vibrant. More in control of things than before. More comfortable. All because you were willing to go outside your comfort zone. You feel more comfortable because you’re more comfortable doing more things. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not.

Expanding your comfort zone makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin. And that’s what real comfort is all about.

The course of my life was changed at three by my being pushed outside my comfort zone. When I was younger, I understood that change was good, that I’d be fine if I did things that scared me.

Now I’m older, I understand that living outside my comfort zone has been the making of me. I am who I am today because of my constantly expanding comfort zone. Because I’m comfortable in my skin.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

boundaries-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

Want to be Happier and More Self-Fulfilled? Get Serious About Your Personal Boundaries.

Boundaries are not walls.

Walls keep people out. Boundaries let people in, but in a deliberate and intentional way. It’s important to understand the difference.

You build walls from a place of fear. This is true for literal walls, and figurative ones. You build walls around YOUR HOME to keep people out, because you fear what they’ll do to you if you let them in. You fear that they’ll steal or damage your things. You fear that they’ll harm you and your loved ones. You fear that they’ll see you ‘off-duty’ and at your most vulnerable. You build walls around your property to protect yourself and your loved ones.

And you also build walls around YOURSELF to keep people out, because you fear what they’ll do to you if you let them in. You fear that they’ll steal or damage parts of you. You fear that they’ll harm you. You fear that they’ll see you at your most vulnerable. You build walls around yourself to protect yourself.

A wall says: “I’m scared of you. Stay away! I don’t want to know anything about you, or for you to know anything about me.”

Boundaries are also about protection, but aren’t created from a place of fear. Boundaries exist to show where something begins and ends. Where a country begins and ends. Where you begin and end.

A boundary says: “This is me. Welcome! Know me as I am, and accept me as I am. And I look forward to doing the same with you.”

Personal boundaries

Very few people have clearly defined personal boundaries. Why? Because you have walls, instead. You don’t start out with walls, you build them as you go through life.

When you’re a young child, you’re trusting and open. You’re curious about the world. You’re excited by everything there is to explore. You see the world around you as a place of wonder. If something hurts you, you cry. Then you dust yourself off, and get back to your exploring. Fear has no role in your life. Yet.

Fear starts to appear in your life the day your loved ones start to mould you. They start to turn you into the person they believe you need to be. To fit in. To be successful in life. To do this, they use fear. “Don’t do this, or you’ll…”. “Do this, or you won’t…”. “Learn this, so you’ll…”. It all seems to make perfect sense. Except that it doesn’t.

It never makes sense to mould someone. Because if you’re moulding people, you’re stopping them from being themselves. You’re saying: “You’re no good as you are. You need to be like this.” This kind of message erodes your sense of self-worth.

And it never makes sense to use fear to get someone to do something. Using it like this teaches children to fear things that aren’t even there. It’s one thing to teach children that real things like fire, cars and bears can be dangerous. It’s another to use fear as a stick to get children to do what you want. All you’re doing there is teaching children to fear the imagined.

Walls are a by-product of fear. They’re inevitable because you don’t trust yourself to protect yourself. When you feel unprotected, you feel threatened. And when you feel threatened, you build walls.

Trouble is, the walls don’t change anything. Sure, they may keep out the unwanted. But they don’t help you deal with your fear. That’s because no wall can ever be high enough to keep out the unwanted 100% of the time. If someone wants to get in, it will happen. Deep inside, you know this, which is why your fear never goes away. In fact, I’ve found that the higher your walls, the more fearful you get. Pretty ironic, don’t you think?

Walls also prevent you from feeling lasting happiness and self-fulfilment. These states of being are only possible when fear has no hold on your life.

Your walls make you feel less secure, more threatened, less happy, and less fulfilled. So, what’s the alternative? Creating clear personal boundaries. And maintaining them.

How to create personal boundaries

With your personal boundaries, you want to let people in. But on your terms.

Letting in people on your terms is a good thing if your terms aren’t about controlling others. Controlling others is about fear. This is different. Here, your terms are those things that allow you to remain yourself. And being yourself is the key to happiness and self-fulfilment.

Your boundaries exist to enable you to be YOU. To enable you to live YOUR life based on YOUR principles and YOUR belief system. You shouldn’t want to live any other way. Because then you’re living from someone else’s principles and belief system, not yours.

Your starting place for creating personal boundaries is with you. With who you are and why you’re here. To figure out how to answer these questions, you might find this post of mine helpful.

Once you know yourself deeply, you can start to get clear on your personal boundaries.

Boundaries state how you want to be in the world. What you’re prepared to engage in, and not. What actions are yours to do, and not. What behaviours are for you, and not. Your boundaries determine your side of things. And the environment and people you surround yourself with.

You might find it easier to think about personal boundaries like this. Which aspects of your life MUST be maintained to enable you to be you? I call these your non-negotiables.

For example, do you have non-negotiables for:

  • Your own behaviour (e.g. love guiding all your actions)?
  • How you live (e.g. minimizing your environmental footprint)?
  • Your health and well-being (e.g. never eating food you know is bad for you)?
  • Your intimate relationships (e.g. having the same worldview)?
  • The behaviour of those you spend time with (e.g. not being around toxic people)?
  • What you spend your money on (e.g. not buying from companies whose ethics aren’t aligned with yours)?

There should be no judgement attached to your non-negotiables. There aren’t ‘correct’ non-negotiables. There are only YOUR non-negotiables. They’re not for other people to see or comment on, they’re for you. You may choose to share them with those close to you. Or you may choose to keep them to yourself. It doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that you have clearly defined personal boundaries.

How personal boundaries work in practice

Personal boundaries are liberating. They free up your mind because they take the hard work out of decision-making.

Personal boundaries act as a lens through which you view the world. A filter through which you pass things before engaging.

How?

Imagine that one of your non-negotiables is never eating food you know is bad for you. When you’re offered such food, what happens? You decline, politely. That’s it. You don’t need to justify your decision with an explanation. It’s your right to decline, just as it’s the other’s right to offer.

Imagine that another is having the same worldview as your intimate partner. A couple of coffee dates would reveal this. If you’re not a risk-taker and your date likes to risk everything on a hunch, you have a different worldview. If you’re a people person and your date has no friends, you have a different worldview. If you’re fit and active and your date is a couch potato, you have a different worldview.

Do you see how much more simple your boundaries make your life?

Being yourself is the route to happiness and self-fulfilment. So anything that helps you with this is well worth doing. Creating personal boundaries is a big help. Don’t be deterred by the amount of time and a lot of effort it takes to create your boundaries. The first time you do it will be the most labour-intensive. All subsequent reviews of your boundaries will get easier. And you should review them annually to make sure they’re still right for you.

One day, when humankind is more enlightened — ruled by love, not fear — we won’t need boundaries. But for now, we do. We need boundaries, not walls.

Are you ready to get serious about yours?

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).
death-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

Life, death… and life

The life cycle we struggle with so much

Life. This we understand.

Or not.

We’re born, we grow up, we do things, we own things, we get old, we die. That’s pretty much it. To make matters worse, we’re participants in this thing we call life. We take part in a game designed for us by others. Our parents, mentors, society.

Before you object to what I’ve said, answer me this.

Is your life meaningful? Do you know who you are and what you’re here to do?

I thought not.

My life wasn’t meaningful, either. Until I dug deep to discover why my little voice kept on asking me “Is this it?” for much of my adult life. That’s where I found the meaning.

Making my life meaningful changed everything. For me. For those I serve.

I didn’t understand death any better. And I’m guessing that you don’t, either.

When beings I loved died, I saw it as an ending. A final act. I couldn’t imagine finding that love again elsewhere. At least, not for a long time.

A lot of this stemmed from my belief system at the time. I told myself I couldn’t bear this type of heartbreak again. I also told myself that ‘replacing’ this being in my life would be disloyal to the one who had died.

I felt guilty. About a lot of things.

  • Whether she knew I loved her.
  • Whether I’d done right by him.
  • Having feelings of happiness or love ‘too soon’ after the death.
  • Not having enough love in me. So, I’d have to love him less to have enough love for someone new.

Turns out, I was as wrong about death as I was about life.

If life is meant to be meaningful, then death is meant to be enriching.

This is how nature works. A Western red-cedar tree knows exactly what it’s here to do. To be the best possible Western red-cedar tree. It spend its whole life doing this. And then it dies.

When a Western red-cedar tree dies and falls to the forest floor, it leaves its richness behind. Its wealth of nutrients are there to give life to all that inhabit the forest. Insects, animals, other trees.

In death, the Western red-cedar tree leaves its world richer, primed for new life.

And in death, we humans also leave our world richer, primed for new life. If those left behind could only see it.

When beings we love die, the pain we feel breaks open our hearts. This can prime us for even deeper love, for even deeper connections.

Or it can prime us to close down.

If we are to honour those who die, then we, too, must use the richness they leave behind. The lifetime of happy memories. The heartbreak from their death.

We must use this to give ourselves more life. To become more human. To love and connect with others more deeply. To be more compassionate. Not to waste a scrap of what these beings gave us through their lives.

Life, death, and life. Meaning, enrichment, deeper meaning.

Nature’s cycle is ours, too. Believe it.

 

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

labels-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

The labels that define us

And how we limit ourselves by becoming them

I remember it so well. The day I became ‘a sick person’.

It was such a shock to me. I’d always been proud of my health. “I’m ‘a healthy person’, I’ve got good genes”, I’d say to myself, and anyone else who’d listen. I was someone who could put her body through endless abuse, and come out smelling of roses. Sure, I got my share of colds and ‘flu, but nothing worse than that. Until one day in my late 30s, that is.

You’re sick. You have ulcerative colitis. It’s incurable. You’ll be on meds for the rest of your life.”

That’s all it took. Those words flipped a switch in me, and I became ‘a sick person’.

My behaviour as ‘a sick person’ was very different from my behaviour as ‘a healthy person’. I took fistfuls of meds — to stop the flares when they happened, and to prevent them from happening. I panicked if I was more than a minute from a toilet. And spent hours scoping out routes I could take to alleviate my panic. I stopped exercising, not wanting to stress out my body any more than it already was.

I lurched from one flare to another. I had no idea what brought them on — it didn’t seem to matter to me. After all, my disease was incurable, so why spend time on such trivialities? Instead, I spent my time on my visits to doctors. Lots of them.

People felt sorry for me. My friends and work colleagues, and complete strangers in pharmacies and medical labs. They looked at me as though I had a life sentence hanging over me. Because that’s how I looked at myself.

After about 18 months as ‘a sick person’, something happened. I woke up one day with a clear picture in my head of a much older me. And this me was bursting with health.

In that moment, I stopping being ‘a sick person’ and started being me.

Without realising it, I’d become the person I’d been told I was. A sick person. I’d become the label I’d been given. In so doing, I’d handed over full responsibility for myself to others. In believing what I’d been told, I’d absolved myself of responsibility for my body, my health.

This realisation both shocked me, and spurred me into action.

I started a lifelong quest to educate myself. About this disease and others like it, and about health, in general. And to understand and love myself. Deeply. This was the only way I could take back full responsibility for my body and my health. Which I did, with great success.

Turns out, I’d been living the labels I’d been given my whole life. The dutiful daughter/wife/friend. The good person. The rebel. The outsider. And, in living these labels, I’d limited myself. So much so, that I’d become someone I’m not.

I’m not alone in this. I see people living their labels all around me.

  • The single mother.
  • The cancer survivor.
  • The daughter
  • The grieving widow(er).
  • The mother.
  • The business(wo)man.
  • The son
  • The [insert your religion, here]
  • The father.
  • The [insert profession here]
  • The sister
  • The ex-pat.
  • The immigrant.
  • The brother
  • The [insert your label, here]

I see you over-identifying with your labels. To your detriment. You’re limiting yourself, because that label is but one aspect of you. You are so much more. You’re limitless, multi-dimensional. Not the unidimensional person that label makes you.

Today, I decide how I live. I decide what goes in and on my body. I decide what — and whom — I surround myself with. I am neither ‘a sick person’, nor ‘a healthy person’.

I am me. And I’m limitless. Just like you.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

trust-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

What happens when you trust with your whole heart?

The unimaginable does

I always tried to control everything. Life got so messy if I didn’t. Love. Work. Play. Everything.

I learned very young about control. I had to, it was an essential survival tactic. If I controlled what I thought, how I behaved, and how I felt, I got along just fine. On the rare occasion when my emotions got the better of me, they were smacked back down into their place.

That’s how things were.

In time, control became part of my persona. In truth, it became my protective shell. If I didn’t feel in control, things started to unravel inside me in ways that I couldn’t deal with. I can’t explain it, but not being in control opened a door to an awful mess that I wasn’t equipped to deal with at the time.

I became very task oriented, because tasks were something I could control. People, less so! I did my best not to hurt people… unless they stood between me and getting a task done. Then I would bulldoze their feelings off to the side and keeping moving forward. I wasn’t proud of my behaviour. That’s how it was.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, fear held me in its grip. I was afraid of the world – it had always felt such an unsafe place to me. And, because of that, I didn’t feel I could trust. Anyone. Anything. Myself included. So I had to control, to try to force things to happen.

And that was a total disaster.

I got more and more controlling, and more and more unhappy and stressed out. Until one day, when I imploded. I was so utterly exhausted from all the effort I was putting into controlling. I was so utterly empty inside from living without trust.

When you hit rock bottom, you have a choice. You can either numb the pain, hoping it will go away. Or you can make sure it goes away by making some changes in your life. I chose the latter, despite knowing that my changes had to be radical. And I knew exactly where to start.

With trust. I had to start trusting. Myself. Others. The universe.

My journey to trust

I started with my friends, by asking them for help when I needed it. This was me trusting that they wouldn’t drop me as a friend, thinking I was weak for needing help. Yeah, I know. Baby steps.

When this felt safe, I moved on to people in general. First, I stopped apologizing all the time. For saying things I believed. For being in someone’s way. For being unwilling to do things I didn’t want to do.

Next, I stopped being defensive. I had a right to hold an opinion, and it didn’t have to be the same as someone else’s. Other people also had a right to hold an opinion I didn’t share.

Then I started accepting compliments. Saying “Thank you”, and meaning it. That meant no more detracting from compliments by saying something to devalue them. Such as “In this old rag? I’ve had it for years!” or “Oh, this wasn’t really my work, X helped me with it.”

And then, I reached the point where I was OK with people I trusted being untrustworthy. By being OK with it, I mean it didn’t send me scurrying back into my protective control shell. I learned my lesson from each incident, but remained in trust mode. The overarching lesson I learned was that I wasn’t protecting myself well. By asking lots more questions before making decisions, I fixed that.

The final frontier was trusting myself. Trusting my instincts. Trusting my wisdom. Trusting my skills. Trusting that I am enough. Trusting that I am worthy… of happiness, of help, of trust, of love.

As I worked through this, I discovered something about trusting myself. That it’s entwined with trusting the universe. I couldn’t trust that the universe had my back unless I trusted that I deserved it.

You see it all goes back to love. Self-love.

You cannot trust with your whole heart unless you love with your whole heart.

And when you finally do trust – and love – with your whole heart, magic happens. Magic that you could never conjure up yourself.

The unimaginable happens.

The unimaginable

  Doors open that you didn’t even know were there.
  ‘Coincidences’ happen that confirm the direction you should take.
  Your tribe starts to form around you, united by the positive, not the negative.
  You feel energized by life, even when challenges come your way… which they always will.
  You feel compassion for people who aren’t like you – feelings of fear and judgement subside.
  You wake up excited about the day ahead.
  You go to sleep grateful for the day you had.
  Your heart sings.

Jump into the unknown and trust. Trust as if your whole life depended on it.

Because it does.

 

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

older-women-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

In Praise of Older Women

Why it’s time to stop concealing your age and start embracing it.

I’m 55. My hair is grey. My skin shows my hard-earned miles on the clock.

And I love it.

I didn’t always feel like this. I’m a reformed age concealer.

Grey hairs made their first appearance in my late 20s. I didn’t think anything of them at first. But when there were so many that removing them by hand would have left a bald patch, I decided to do something about it.

My first foray into the world of hair dyeing involved henna. I mixed up what looked and smelled like a cow pat, and spooned it all over my head. Some time later, when the henna had worked its magic, I surveyed my handiwork and was happy with what I saw. A mop of shiny hair with no grey ones jumping out at me. Result!

It’s fair to say that henna was a gateway product for me. I used it until I stopped getting what I wanted from it. I then turned to the hard stuff. Chemical hair dye. Every four weeks for the next 15 years.

Once you start dyeing your hair — especially if it’s dark — it’s hard to stop. You become a grey-root-a-phobe. All you notice about yourself when your hair needs dyeing are your roots. And everyone else is staring at them, too… you believe. You get used to seeing yourself with hair the same colour as it was when you were in your early 20s. You get used to other people seeing you that way, too.

You get used to looking younger than you are.

You also get used to shelling out a lot of money to keep your habit going. And you get used to chemical warfare being waged on your scalp every month.

One day, after allowing the fountain of eternal youth to seduce me for 23 years, I stopped. I stopped concealing the truth — that I was grey-haired and older than I looked.

It had been brewing for a while. Not on its own, but as part of a much larger issue I’d been encountering.

Ageism.

Ageism entered my life when I was about 45. And has never left. Ageism has many faces. Medical conditions being attributed to age instead of being investigated. Not getting interviews for jobs you’re 100% qualified for. (And finding out later they hired someone with half your experience.) Being given no voice in workplaces espousing equality.

A couple of incidents stand out for me.

When I was in my late 40s, a recruitment consultant told me to “dumb down” my résumé to take 10 years off my age. “Marketing is a young person’s game. Besides, you look much younger than you are so it’ll work”, he told me.

A few years later, I read an article by a millennial career and workplace expert. An advocate for authenticity at work, he discusses how important it is for his generation. Yet, when asked to provide advice for people in their 40s/50s looking for work, he said something like this. Older workers need to cut jobs and accomplishments from their résumés so they appear younger. And must never put their photos on anything! So, authenticity is important for millennials, but not for 50-somethings?

Then there was the sexism that accompanied this. From other women.

When I stopped dyeing my hair, the only negative feedback I got was from women. “Oh my god, why are you doing that! You look so young for your age right now!” “You won’t be hired looking like that!” This ageism/sexism mix shocked me. Let’s be honest, no man would ever get comments like this. Especially not from his own gender.

Even worse was the sense I got from other women that I was ‘letting the side down’. As in letting other women down. It’s so hard to put my finger on why I sensed this, but I did. As did a friend of mine when she stopped dyeing her hair after 30 years. Women would stare at my hair, talk amongst themselves, then stare again.

How dare I do this? How dare I suggest, via my grey hair, that other women my age might also be… my age?

I was gobsmacked, to say the least.

Today, my grey hair is still an issue. I continue to get feedback that more employment doors would open for me if I went back to being a brunette. But I also get comments from young women about how much they love my hair colour. It’s the colour many of them are dyeing their hair to be ‘on trend’. So what’s fashionable for younger women isn’t acceptable for older women?

The lack of acceptance of natural grey hair speaks to a much deeper, more significant issue.

That older people have little value in modern society.

Only women can change this. Not because we’re better than men. But because we’re contributing to this perception more than men. We’re doing so by agreeing to do what society demands of us. By dyeing our hair to conceal the grey. By spending a fortune on anti-aging products. By having cosmetic surgery to tighten up our skin. By not supporting women who stop playing this damaging game.

We have to change this. Fast. Because ever-increasing numbers of older women and men feel like they don’t matter. They worry about their future — their social and financial future. They feel like they’re on the scrap-heap — with nothing of value to contribute.

And they’re wrong.

The wisdom that comes with age is of immense value. The younger generations need this wisdom to help them recalibrate society’s values. They need this life experience to help them navigate the hard times that lie ahead. They need to learn from this expertise gained over decades.

Fellow older women: It’s time to accept your age. It’s time to let go of society’s false notions of age. It’s time to stop devaluing yourself by pretending to be someone you’re not.

It’s time to embrace yourself. As you are.

You are perfect, as you are. Your grey hair is perfect. Your loosening skin is perfect. Your wrinkles are perfect. How you look today is a reflection of everything you’ve accomplished in your life.

You’ve accomplished so much already. And have so much more left to offer.

Be bold. Be an older woman.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).