Whilst having lunch with a friend from Australia, I apologised for not eating the tomatoes in my salsa. She remarked, “you know, you don’t need to do that anymore“. “What do you mean?“, I asked, laughing. “Apologise for not wanting to eat something.“
“I’m 60. I don’t need to do that anymore”
She went on to tell me, that to the annoyance of her grown children, this has become a ‘catchphrase’ for her as she is now 60. She has decided that certain social niceties can slip. Eating celery, making her bed, cooking dinner… all things that she feels she can let slide, in favour of enjoying her retirement after all her years of hard work!
“One of the good elements of old age is that we no longer have to prove anything, to ourselves or to anyone else. We are what we are.” [May Sarton]
I’m only in my 50s, but I did ask her if I could borrow the phrase! What would I use it for? Not eating celery and fresh tomatoes – yes! Making my bed – never done that anyway, so yes! Cooking dinner – yes – I no longer need to be a full-time mom, as my son has left home… and so much more.
During our conversation, I was struck by how many obscure rules we live by, most of them forced on us by parents or grandparents from bygone eras. An example of one that really gets me in South Africa is the practice of calling a female older than you “Auntie”, even when there is no family relationship. The theory is that its a sign of respect, but I don’t think it is. You can show respect without having to call someone a particular name. I’ve baulked at this and have always asked my son’s friends to call me Debbie, ever since they were small. But the practice is so ingrained, that even now when they are young adults, they still do it!
As children, young adults and parents, we abide by the rules for lots of reasons: because we are punished if we break them; because we need to set a good example for our children and so on. Teenagers will often rebel against the rules, questioning why they are necessary, and so they should.
But its not just about rules, it’s also about expectations and expected ways of behaving. I’m the youngest of four girls, by 11, 18 and 19 years respectively. I’ve always been the “baby” and that’s what is expected of me in the family. No one expects me to have my own opinions, skills, strengths and weaknesses. I remember once, driving my brother-in-law somewhere. As we got into the car, he said: “can you drive?”. I was in my mid-30s at the time and had been driving for over 10 years. I know he was probably joking, but over the years, these kinds of comments have become less and less funny. There’s an element of disrespect in every comment like this.
We are bound by all the things that society tells us we “should do”. There are so many things that we feel that we should do and care about that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that it’s about finding the things that are important to me, the things that I really want to care about and focusing on those – and not caring about everything! It’s about having the clarity to know what I don’t want, who I don’t want to be.
In a way, my friend’s catchphrase is an expression of things that she has outgrown. It reminded me of the piece (I think its written by Chanda Kaushik but hard to say definitively) which starts with the line: “I have outgrown many things“. Some of her ideas resonate strongly with me and I’ve added a few of my own.
I have outgrown…
- … trying to please everyone, but never looking after myself
- … always saying “yes”, when I need to say “no”
- … my tendency to fill my mind with self-doubt and insecurity
- … society telling me I’m not beautiful, smart, or worthy enough
- … the need to spend time with people who suck my energy
- … thinking that I don’t matter, thinking that I’m unseen and unheard
- … apologising for arbitrary things like not eating tomatoes or celery
- … being scared to do something different, to take a risk
- … putting on the “happy face”, rather than saying it how it is
- and more …
What things can you think of that you’d like to “opt out of” today?
What would your “I’ve outgrown…” list look like?
Here’s Chanda’s list in case you want to read it:
I have outgrown many things.
I have outgrown relatives who gladly offer criticism but not support.
I have outgrown my need to meet my family’s unrealistic expectations of me.
I have outgrown women who wear masks and secretly rejoice at misfortunes.
I have outgrown shrinking myself for men who are intimidated by my intelligence and outspoken nature.
I have outgrown friends and family who cannot celebrate my accomplishments.
I have outgrown people who conveniently disappear whenever life gets a little dark.
I have outgrown those who take pleasure in gossiping and spreading negativity.
I have outgrown dull, meaningless conversations that feel forced.
I have outgrown those who don’t take a stand against ignorance and injustice.
I have outgrown trying to please everyone.
I have outgrown society constantly telling me I’m not beautiful, smart, or worthy enough.
I have outgrown trying to fix every little flaw.
I have outgrown my tendency to fill my mind with self-doubt and insecurity.
I have outgrown trying to find reasons not to love myself.
I have outgrown anything and anyone that does not enrich the essence of my soul.
I have outgrown many things, and I’ve never felt freer. [Chanda Kaushik]