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“There are just too many differences between me and my daughter-in-law. My mother-in-law never treated me like a daughter; that’s how these traditional relationships are. And I’m too old to change now.”
“I was just complimenting the woman when I told her she looked pretty and put my arms around her. Not everything a man does or says is bad, okay? Also, this Me Too stuff is new for me. I’m too old for your new definitions of appropriate and inappropriate behavior.”
“Please don’t wear shorts when your uncle and auntie come home. Your modern behavior is not appropriate. They’re from a different generation, and they’re too old to change.”
These are all random comments I’ve heard people make over the years—some to me and some to friends. The people who said them are different, but the common refrain in all of them is, “I’m too old to change.”
I’ve heard this from close friends and family. I’ve heard this from colleagues and acquaintances. Hell, for a while, even I said this.
Until one day, something changed.
I realized, at least for myself, that saying we’re too old to change takes the responsibility off our shoulders and shifts the blame to the one thing that’s not in our control: time.
I still remember when I lived stateside and rented a room in a house owned by a 65-year-old woman. During the course of my five years living with her, I became friends with her older friends. And one of them once said something I’ve never forgotten:
“Roopa, I don’t care anymore. I do what I want, and I say what I want. I, literally, give zero f*cks. And that’s because I’m 70 years old. That’s the only good thing that comes with ageing. And damn the world for their judgment.”
I laughed out loud when I heard this because the sentiment is true. The process of ageing allows people to get away with anything. It allows them to be exactly who they are, irrespective of the fact that the world has changed. Ageing allows them to stay where they are, behave how they have always behaved, say all kinds of politically incorrect sh*t, and then claim, I’m too old to change.
The process of ageing also means the world is often kinder to them, forgiving them of all manner of sins. They can often be full-on or at least mildly racist, ageist, sexist, or fat-phobic and then claim ignorance. They take refuge in the fact that although what used to be okay back in the day is no longer okay in today’s world, they can always fall back on the claim that they’re just too old to change.
Like I said, I used to do the same. Until I realized that this is a cop out.
It’s one of the worst and most overly used excuses for us to never try and change our bad behavior because there’s no age limit to what we can and cannot do. Well, okay it’s probably more difficult to climb Mount Everest in our 70s or 80s. But what stops us from changing internally is not our age but our desire, our will, and our wish to change.
For the longest time, I behaved in a certain way not simply because I was relying on the too old to change mindset but because I was comfortable the way I was. But the day came when I woke up and realized I wasn’t happy. My choices and the way I was living my life were making me miserable, and that’s when I started to consciously make a change.
And I’m here to tell you that no matter how old you are, if you genuinely want to make a change in your life, you can. You just need to want it enough.
Here are three fundamental changes I’ve made so far—changes I once thought I was too old to make:
1. I’m no longer someone who only sees what’s lacking in my life. I’m now someone who is actively grateful for all I do have.
Growing up, I was surrounded by energy that deeply influenced me. I was always worried about what I did not have. Sure, what I did not have propelled me forward and made me ambitious, but most times, it also made me full of nervous and negative energy.
Then a few years back, I was on my way home from the airport when my taxi stopped at a red light and two young children came to my door and begged for money. They were probably 12 or 13 years old. The weather was cold, and their clothes were raggedy and torn, barely covering their little bodies. They were shivering and looked hungry. I gave them some money and they smiled and clapped their hands and said thank you, then skipped away. When the taxi moved again, I realized that something inside of me broke in that moment.
Here I was returning home from a holiday spent in Istanbul, still frustrated about the many things I did not have, the countries I hadn’t traveled, the many cuisines I hadn’t tasted, and here were these two street kids who ran away smiling after I gave them some change. They had every reason to whine and complain and be envious of me—but they weren’t.
That was the day I started to think about the billions of people on this planet who have nothing. Those who are homeless or abused by the people in their homes. Those who don’t have a place where they feel safe, who don’t have enough to eat. Children who beg instead of going to school, and those who stay awake all night because they’re petrified they might be assaulted.
Something radically shifted inside of me that day. Thinking about those who didn’t have a thousandth of what I had made me thankful for what I did have. That’s when the whining and the envy stopped—and the gratitude began.
These days, I’m all about being grateful for what I have.
I still work my ass off and cling to a few unattainable ambitions, but I’m also content with the space I’ve made in my life and where I am. And I’m so, so grateful. The glass is always more-than-full for me now.
2. I’m no longer a pessimist when it comes to others. I’m now a full-on optimist who tries to see the best in everyone.
There was a time when I constantly wondered why others were being nice to me. Did they want something from me?
Instead of living in the moment and accepting someone’s kindness for what it was, I worried and allowed myself to feel bothered about the many probable reasons for their compassion. Most times, meeting and interacting with not-so-nice people was a relief because, at least with them, what you saw is what you got. But the nice ones freaked me out.
Over time, I decided to look at the glass as half full. I asked myself, “Why am I so worried about the possibility that there might be something underhanded about this person’s kindness? What’s the worst that could happen? The nice ones turn out to be assholes? Big deal. Why am I worrying now about something that might not happen later?”
And horror of horrors, I asked myself, “What if this person was being genuinely nice? With no secret agenda of any kind?” Shocking, right? I knew then that I’d spent so much energy trying to figure people out instead of just accepting them for who they are. And I knew it was time to stop.
Since then, I live a more optimistic life. If people are nice? Great. If not, I briefly mourn them and move on. These days I’m all about believing the best in everyone, with one key caveat—I hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And my life has become so much happier.
3. I’m no longer the person who holds back. I’m now someone who helps when I can afford to, even if I get ripped off sometimes.
“Roop, dude. You’re now too Zen. Enough. Get upset already!”
A friend of mine told me last week that in my quest to improve myself I’d gone to the other extreme and allowed someone else in my life to repeatedly take advantage of me.
“The old Roopa would’ve never put up with this kind of nonsense,” my friend thundered.
I loved my friend for being on my side, but I was also okay being “taken advantage of.” I’m finally at the point in my life where I can afford to help, even if it means I get ripped off sometimes.
I’m also experienced enough to realize that people are products of their upbringing. This person repeatedly questions my life choices and then asks me to help her out with my money and my time. But with age and experience, I now realize that we all, including this person, are doing the best we can. Yes, I wish they could “change” but accept when they can’t.
Bottom line, it makes me happy when I’m able to help others. And if, in the process, I get taken advantage of, I don’t really care.
This is such a radical shift from the type of person I was even just a few years back. Back then, I’d never allow myself to be taken advantage of. But now? I just shrug and move on. If I can afford to give this person my time and my money, I do. But once it gets to a point when I can no longer afford to, I will tell them clearly and take it from there. Until then, I’m A-OK giving them the benefit of doubt.
These are three ways I know I’ve changed in my older years. And I’m making a conscious effort to change more of the things that I feel can be improved upon.
But let me just put this out there: none of this is easy. It wasn’t as if I woke up one morning and decided I had to change and voila! Well, I did actually wake up one morning and decide I needed to change—but the actual change? It’s been years in the making. I still find myself falling into old habits and have to willfully pull myself out of those negative patterns and return to my newer self.
I’m here to tell you that changing who we are and what we believe as we age is f*cking hard. But you know what it isn’t? Impossible. You just have to want to it bad enough.
What do you think? Does any of this resonate with you? I’d love to start a discussion about making willful changes as we get older. So, let me know your thoughts in the comments section.