She's in her mid-80s, definitely spry for her age, her face framed by waves of thick white hair. An author, she's written numerous books, taught writing workshops and traveled extensively. With so much life experience, she's one of the wisest women I know.
Grandmother? Aged aunt? Elderly neighbor? Sagacious friend?
Actually, she's me -- or, should I say, how I envision myself to be in 30-plus years. Like a character in a short story, I have carefully created this older self so that she seems very real to me. Her image now is my North Star toward which I navigate my life, especially in my creative pursuits. Just as my 12-year-old self was brave enough to declare her intentions to become a writer when she grew up, at mid-life I must stake my claim to become a wise older woman. Given all she has accomplished and the contribution she has made to others, my older self looks back contentedly on a kind of life that I have yet to fully live. If I don't want to disappoint her, I had better get living!
It's not magic or soothsaying, and, of course, there's no guarantee that this is how things will turn out. But I firmly believe that my intention could be a tipping point toward becoming that older self. Most important are the choices I make today. If I don't invest my time wisely, I could end up with broken promises to myself and unfulfilled dreams.
So for the sake of the 85-year-old I'll be one day, I'm spending more time writing and enrolling in a master's program to get an advanced degree in creative writing. Whenever I wonder if it makes any sense to "spend all that time and money at my age," I picture my 85-year-old self telling me, "Of course you're worth it! If you don't want to get to my age with regrets, then take yourself seriously today."
My idea for an older self came to me one summer day while I was out walking. Tired and frustrated by writing that didn't get me anywhere, I let my mind slip into a mild reverie, remembering what it felt like when I was 12 during those long July afternoons. My younger self came so clearly to mind, it was as if I was looking at a videotape. Seeing her/me, I felt a flood of tenderness for the bravery of this girl who carved out a dream for herself and did not let go.
I remembered how that life plan, so new and barely formed, was met with more scorn than praise. My mother, who had grown up with so few choices for her own life, could not imagine one of her children having such a bold vision for herself. "Oh, you'll change your mind a million times," Mother told me. Wanna bet? I held that image of becoming a writer so tightly, that I brought it into being. The life I live now has much to do with the determination of that 12-year-old.
With that realization, I shifted the time frame and conjured up an older version of myself. As I imagined what her life would be like, I could suddenly picture it: in a study full of books she had written, photographs of family and friends and mementoes from her travels all over the world. When I gave her a voice and let her "speak" to me, I "heard" her say: "You are the one I look back on. If you want me to have good memories, you had better live that life!"
Creating an older self is no different from the daydreaming we did as children. We pictured ourselves as grownups, and pretended to be firefighters, astronauts, ballerinas, and artists. In time, we put real flesh on the bones of those images as we discovered who we are and what we wanted to be. The process is never done, and we always have the opportunity to dream ourselves anew.
We cannot become complacent at middle age where our dreams are concerned. If we do we will surely set ourselves up for bitter disappointment. It is time to claim our right to a second act worth staying through, all the way to the end of the show, so that we can look back and say, "Ah, I lived fully and well."