On Becoming 70
As a kid I had fantasies of what the rest of my life would be. I was going to be (in no particular order): a New York Times Bestselling author (check); a world change agent (check); a singer (Nope!); recognized for my beauty and talent (Um…); a wife to a nice man and mother to 3 kids (In the ballpark.); live happily ever after (Jury is still out.). Some of that came true. But not much. And certainly not like I fantasized.
As I’ve lived my life, each decision, each turn of events, seemed to be both dynamic and challenging. Was I supposed to keep my dreams in mind or create new ones? It took decades to realize that whatever decisions I made were the right ones at the time.
My life turned out quite differently than I imagined, with my personal life taking a back seat to the work I somehow knew I was meant to convey. Personally, I took two very brief trips through marriage and motherhood (one son), with some movies, dancing, and travel to 63 countries. Professionally, I’ve written books; developed, scaled, and trained my original thinking in training, decision making, and change; coded how people hear each other (or don’t); and founded a non-profit. I always felt secure in the creativity and brain stuff, and horribly inadequate in the personal.
TRAPPED IN A BRAIN
As a child of domestic violence with Borderline Personality Disorder, Asperger’s and PTSD, I recognized I was trapped in a pretty cool brain with little ability to relate or socialize according to conventional norms. I mistakenly thought that if I got married and had kids, and worked in a corporate job, I’d be normal. But ‘normal’ wasn’t in the cards: I eventually had to give up a personal life in order to have the clarity, simplicity, and space to daydream, think and write.
Looking back, I cannot imagine how, as a damaged 11 year old, I understood I needed an enhanced skill set to face the challenge to the status quo that my ideas caused – a journey that took me 30 years with the help of gifted, kind, and demanding therapists. I had to learn appropriate communication, unbiased listening, patience, self-acceptance, authenticity, humility, trust, clarity, and boundaries. I had to make sure my mind/body/spirit was healthy. I had to learn to take the risks necessary to proclaim ideas that flew in the face of mainstream. I had to dig deeply into spirituality, values, meditation and find the courage to change, even in the face of abject terror and confusion. And always, I had to learn how to bring my heart into everything I did because my models blend heart and mind.
Luckily I found clients interested in my ideas. Over the decades, I learned to show up as socially appropraite most of the time, albeit ‘eccentric’ and occasionally obnoxious. Once, following a two year stint teaching Buying Facilitation® and my Facilitative Questioning technique to national sales team at Bethlehem Steel, my client was handing me over to a different department. “Is she always like this?” he whispered? “Yes,” my client whispered back. “And you’ll learn to love her.”
TENACITY AND TRANQUILITY
What I find curious is that regardless of how scared or isolated I was, I always – even as a child – knew with utter clarity that my ability to code systemic change was important enough to devote my life to and needed a global audience. I accomplished what I was meant to accomplish. The fields I’ve been challenging (sales, coaching, decision making) are even starting to catch up with the models I developed many decades ago.
I passionately hope next lifetime will be simpler. The struggle to encourage change in mainstream has been wearisome; the lack of a personal life has been sad. I’ve shed millions of tears and spent hundreds of sleepless nights. But I turn 70 knowing I’ve made a difference, and can rest in the knowledge that the world is a better place for having had me in it. And that knowledge is its own reward.
I face aging with contentment, curiosity, a bit of fear (I’m not afraid to die, just of losing my ability to think and be curious. My father died of Alzheimer’s.), and an excitement to learn my next lessons. I have no more idea of what the rest of my life will be like than I knew as a teenager.
But I do know this birthday is confusing me. I cannot imagine me as my mental picture of what an old woman should look or act like. I appear to be the same in the mirror, at the gym, dancing, writing, creating. When will something get different? Can I keep daydreaming and discovering? It’s quite confusing. No answers. Will let you know what happened next year. But I do know I seem to be settling in.
Sometimes, these days, I feel drawn to stillness. I just moved to a floating home on the Columbia River. Am spending vast amounts of time sitting quietly, watching the water go by. Peaceful. Sweet. Kind and soft in my heart. And so nice to not feel driven.
But sometimes I’m drawn to learning and thinking. I’m finally reading David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest. And books on Bio-Hackers, predictions, New York garbage collection, and food. So much to learn.
I can’t stop having fun either. I finally found a replacement to the Broken Spoke here in Portland for my life-long Western Swing dancing hobby. And I’ve started a Non-Fiction Book Club.
New ideas aren’t slowing down one bit. But now, although I’m available to folks who need me, I write my ideas in notebooks instead of seeking to have ‘the world’ hear them. My job now is merely to be the person I’ve become over the last seven decades. I even seem to have a personal life emerging!
I feel complete. I can just be. And wherever my life now takes me is fine. I’ve lived my life fully and purposefully. I’m deeply happy. I’ve made a difference. And it’s been a privilege.
Sharon Drew Morgen teaches the ‘how’ of decision making, change facilitation, and collaboration for sellers/buyers, leaders/followers, change agents/groups to corporations such as Kaiser, KPMG, IBM, Wachovia, etc. Her most recent book What? breaks down the gap between what’s said and what’s heard and teaches communication in corporations. She’s written 7 books on her unique model Buying Facilitation® which teaches sellers how to facilitate change and consensus for buyers. www.sharondrewmorgen.com.