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An Introvert's Guide to Aging Wisely

6 New Outlooks That Can Change Your Life

When I first was prompted to write a post on retirement and aging for introverts by one of our readers, I considered bemoaning physical degradation and the challenges of being alone.

But after much thought and a great book, I'm choosing a different tact, one in which I'm striving to put mounting physical pains in context and shift my approach to the positives.

Introverts have such great strengths. Sometimes we need to step back, push the negatives and cultural inclinations aside, and apply our talents and be better for them. For this article, I too needed to step back and look forward.

Aging Wisely

So let's focus on looking forward first.

On recent travels to Western Massachusetts, I picked up a great book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing by Schachter-Shalomi & Miller. One of the reasons I love to read is for the off-chance I'll discover a truly transformational, paradigm-busting book. This is one such book which I highly recommend.

6 Shifting Mindsets

The authors sparked me to consider the need to shift my mindset; thus I consider 6 distinct ways to change from a future of deterioration to one of "second maturation:"

1) Physical to Cerebral: Through mid-life, we have often focused on the physical. Perhaps our looks, soft skin, bushy hair, or our adventurous accomplishments running, biking, paragliding, or surfing. For many, these have become our hobbies and claims to fame, our sources of pride. But as we age, our ability to excel in these areas, or even to do them at all, fades. This is the source of depression for many in their 50s plus.

But we have a calling to shift our focus from the physical to the cerebral. To use our decades of experience and learning, to look inward and discover ourselves, reenergize our greatest learnings, express our wisdom, and as the book states, change our "age-ing" to "sage-ing." It's not that we haven't used our brain to this point, it's that we now can apply intuition, experiences, and insights to create wisdom. This approach is ripe for introverts. We already have many of the tools of introspective thought to excel in this new journey.

2) Others to Self: Consider that much of our lives are spent in a forced community. We are dropped into playgroups constructed by our moms, enrolled in school from kindergarten to college with classrooms of friends but often also bullies and naysayers. Then we work for decades in companies where we must interact with many we honestly find annoying or insulting. We can change those environments, but often we are too bound up in parental expectations or our own need for life stability and financial security.

Finally, as we age and mature, we are no longer forced into these stress-inducing, energy-draining communities. We can now freely choose who we want to associate with. If we choose energy-enhancing camaraderie our happiness and joy elevate. Suddenly, as we remove ourselves from these forced communities, we can focus on ourselves. With lots of time and energy, we can explore our thoughts, recontextualize our past, and focus on hobbies. We are primed to craft our strengths of observing, listening, and curiosity to satisfy our thirst for knowledge and our call to impart wisdom upon others.

3) Chaos to Control: Our earlier lives may feel chaotic. We are juggling work aspirations and expanding family as we strive to understand our introversion and shift to embrace our true skills. Meanwhile, we are often struggling with the extroverted culture that surrounds us at every turn. Now, with time and wisdom, we can start to make sense of the chaos - discarding those thoughts and relationships that are of no real value and assuming control of our time and energy. When we can harness these, we are in control. We are empowered to make a difference.

4) Idle to Action: Modern western culture suggests we work round the clock, run to deliver for decades, and sacrifice our personal health along the way. Then, when we can (literally) run no more, we retire to the couch to amble about, stare at the TV, play with the grandkids, and bemoan our crumbling physical skeleton.

But we do have a purpose and when we shift from the previous approach we realize we still have more to do. We get to control and choose our projects. We needn't work to exhaustion, but now we get to apply ourselves to our greatest passions to learn, to love, and to share.

5) Scattered to Mindful: Especially for introverts, we often spend an exorbitant amount of time ruminating about the past and worrying about future engagements. However, when many of the nuances of these mindset shifts are addressed, we find a mission for ourselves. The authors note a "second maturation." Time has always been limited, but as we accept our new enlightenment with vigor, time becomes our enemy. We haven't the opportunity to be distracted but to employ these principles in whatever time we have left. We become more focused on the present, our own happiness, and on a renewed purpose to share our wisdom and make a difference.

6) Disjoined to Sharing: For much of our lives, our introversion has driven us apart and inside. To the extent we can, we covet our alone time and yield rarely to the attraction of scary new leaps of faith.

However, once we embrace our well-earned confidence and experience, we are often driven to share learnings with others. It's quite ironic that introverts are now gaining the calling to share our perspectives, truths, and learnings to help others who lack our experiences in their journey ahead.

"Sage-ing" Younger

These approaches may shift your view on "senior" years - from latency to action, from stress to joy, and flourishing.

But what stops us from finding this joy earlier in life? Perhaps a heavy dose of understanding introversion and our true selves, the courage to make bold choices regarding who we are with, what we do, and how we express ourselves?

The incentive is certainly there. Take small but meaningful steps to stretch kindly and believe in yourself.

2 Fresh Perspectives on Physical Aging

Finally, since we are talking about aging, we can't avoid the debility of our own physical condition. I myself have been enveloped by this mourning as blood clots, back pain, arthritic knee, and now trigger finger sideline me from some of my own defining experiences. For a husky, non-athletic type like myself, any physical accomplishments satisfied my need to stretch myself and became an enormous source of pride. Over the last few years, I've slid through periods of melancholy as my inability to compete or even play has introduced the subtle reality of frequent aches and pains that don't disappear as easily as they use to and suggest the future path toward physical decline that lies ahead.

However, when we employ our 6 new outlooks, we detach from our physical dependence and re-prioritize what is important and defines us.

I'm not suggesting we don't take care of ourselves. The more we can do right by our body the longer we can enjoy it and remain healthy for the decades to come. However, while we can delay debilitation, we can't avoid it during a long life.

I've been adapting two new approaches to pull myself back from the dispiriting preoccupation of my physical breakdown:

1) Personal memorabilia: each ache is a bit of a medal that reminds me of great memories, and success:

  • My throbbing knee reminds me of my 5Ks and a half marathon, sprinting past others to finish strong.

  • My shoulder pain from surgery after a bike accident reminds me of my two 2-day, 170-mile bike rides.

  • My high liver enzyme level reminds me of my many nights of binging and social drinking with some great friends. Those nights are also some of my favorite memories of my younger days.

  • My new trigger fingers, though the doc says it is not related to usage just aging, may indeed be a result of getting lost in my writing over the past few years.

I can bemoan these aches and give them the power to overwhelm me, or I can use them as a reminder of accomplishments. I may be paying a price for my past actions, but frankly, I have no regrets and take pride in these scars.

2) Humor: a bit of self-deprecating humor is a great healer and coping mechanism. I may hobble in circles with a bum left knee, constantly look like I'm "giving the bird" with my trigger finger, and I certainly know I'm losing the hair war when the baldness of the front is approaching the shiny circle affixed to the top of my head for years now. But if we cannot chuckle at those types of things, I think we are losing the battle to keep our serious introspective brains in check.

Shrug off any overbearing concern of physical aging and embrace the opportunity to use the confidence, wisdom, and courage we have accumulated to live, learn, and teach in our own way!

We have an important role to play. As we age, let's not wallow in our physical ailments but instead use our introspective natures to learn first for ourselves and then to share that wisdom for those that follow.


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