Twenty-five years ago, when I was in my late 30’s, “The New York Times” wrote an article about the organization I founded. Superwomen’s Anonymous was a club for Baby Boomer women who were tired of trying to have, do and be it all. The phone rang off the hook and I found myself with lucrative speaking engagements, media appearances and a book deal with a major publisher. In fact, it was just after meeting with my publisher to finalize the deal that I recall standing on Fifth Avenue, deeply breathing in the heady sense that I had secured my destiny: that through this book, I had been tapped by the gods as immortal. To make a long story short, just before my book came out, someone else hit the media circuit with a book on the same topic. The books cancelled each other out, and as any author will tell you, there’s nothing more deflating to youthful illusions of immortality than walking into a bargain bookstore and seeing your life’s work on the remainder table for 99 cents.
The attainment of immortality is but one of the many illusions that aging dispels. James Hollis, Ph.D., in his infinitely wise and mature “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up” refers to Jung’s concept of individuation from the tribe “and the deconstruction of ‘the false self’” as one of the necessary, if confusing, frustrating and disorienting initiations into true adulthood we must endure if we hope to reap the rewards of the fully lived life.
In my case, the illusion of immortality was but the first of many illusions dispelled by the transit into and ultimately through midlife. On this, the other side of midlife, the deconstruction of illusions has only accelerated as I am increasingly learning to trust that the letting go of the old, as frightening and disorienting as it may be, inevitably leads to something always profound, and occasionally stunning. While the list that follows is not definitive, it is certainly indicative of the nature and depth of the illusions that aging has dispelled. Before I do, lest I lead myself—or anyone—to believe that on the other side of illusion there is certainty and peace, allow me to close with a quote from Hollis: “Psychological or spiritual development always requires a greater capacity in us for the toleration of anxiety and ambiguity. The capacity to accept this troubled state, abide it, and commit to life, is the moral measure of our maturity.”
Carol Orsborn, Ph.D. is Founder of FierceWithAge, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. Dr. Orsborn, who earned her doctorate in religion from Vanderbilt University, is the best-selling author of 21 books including her newest book: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. (Spring 2013) Dr. Orsborn is a sought after speaker/retreat leader and spiritual director.