I don’t remember the precise point when I stopped putting limits on myself – or if I was even aware that I was doing so – but much like the smug mantra, ‘remember when you wanted what you currently have’, which pops up on my Instagram feed from time to time, it occurred to me the other day that the most revelatory mid-life lesson to date is realising that anything is possible.
David Hockney once said that our mind is the limit. Our life is as dynamic, creative, happy, rich (or whatever else you choose) as our mind allows it to be. It’s a pretty powerful thought when you really stop to consider what that means because it challenges us to rethink everything. What if there were no boundaries? (NB there aren’t!). How would you live? What would you create? How high could you fly? How far would you go?
All of which is pretty motivational stuff on a sluggish Monday morning as I write. And yet, society loves to stick everyone and everything into a box: how dare a wrinkled 72 year old woman run a marathon, look fabulous and still be enjoying great sex? Whaddyamean a mother of four might want to put her career first?
Looking around I’m constantly perplexed by how many limits – even without realising it – we impose on ourselves. Also, how many assumptions we make about others, when really, why are we even thinking about what other people can, can’t, should or shouldn’t be doing. Granted, the incessant chatter on social media doesn’t help matters much. More often than not, it promotes a lowest common denominator sort of mentality. But wouldn’t that head-space and energy be better channelled into a gazillion other things.
I know a family member who started every sentence with “I couldn’t possibly go/do/say/drive.” You don’t need me to tell you how very joyful she was to be around, or how everyone quickly started giving her a wide berth. But really, it masked an insecurity and fear that people would laugh at her if she failed at something.
And yet failure is an essential part of growing, not least because it helps us develop a healthy resilience which is a very powerful life crutch. We grow up with the idea that failure is the opposite of success, so odd given that scientists know that an experiment is never truly a failure as such, rather, it’s a lesson, an important part of the whole journey. And anyway, without failure, do we ever truly enjoy success?
A friend told me she used to avoid situations where she might be regarded as a failure because she didn’t want to be made to feel stupid. Then she noticed that anyone who was doing anything interesting or living a very active, full life didn’t really give a fig about how failure made them feel.
I realise, all this rousing rhetoric can sit at odds with a cynical British sensibility and yet, until I tried it for myself I had no idea how empowering or alive straying outside my comfort zone would make me feel. My ‘sod it and see’ approach still, if I’m honest, surprises me most days because laid back is not how anyone who knows me well would ever have described me.
Obviously my newfound derring-do did not involve scaling Mont Blanc – let alone Everest – or learning to bungee jump. Just some small, out-of-my-comfort-zone steps (baby ones at first, bigger later on), which have taught me to think differently and taught me so much about myself that I can’t imagine life any other way. It’s also the best weapon in my beauty arsenal because trying something a little scary gives you the best glow; the sort that really can’t be bought. The comfort zone which once upon a time seemed such a cosy space to inhabit, now just feels very, very dull.
Another welcome bonus is that I’ve got better (and more confident) at tackling the things I am not very good at or don’t come as easily to me because frankly, there’s nothing to lose, only something to gain. Perhaps I am the mother who forgets the school kit, but I can honestly say that my children watch me try things I’m scared to do. Sometimes I screw up and sometimes I don’t. But because I don’t worry about any of this anymore, I have learnt not to put limits on myself, to think expansively (again, easier said than done but practice helps). I try things and see how they pan out (brilliant fun in a freelance chapter) and then take a view point.
I chuckle at all the worrying I used to do too: sometimes I would be worrying about not worrying. I KNOW. This sort of (deeply unhealthy) needless, catastrophic thinking would fuel many an internal 3 am debate, sometimes even a bout of insomnia. Since I’ve learned to stop worrying (as well as ditching guilt and stress), I feel light in every sense of the word. I swear I might even have a less furrowed forehead and certainly bags more energy than I had two decades ago. If anything, I definitely have more time. More time to imagine the infinite possibilities of everything, which is certainly a more positive way to live life.
Not putting limits on yourself fuels thinking creatively and differently about things in your home and work space. And what’s the proof that something is a bad idea before you have attempted it? You won’t know until you’ve tried. It’s pretty mind-blowing to think that anything is possible. And it really, really is.