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Fifty Years of Fear
When you don't get started until later in life
As a fifty-something person who is only now taking my creativity more seriously, how can I work through the grief of the time I've lost, and the sense that I won't have enough time to create something of lasting value?
Too Old For This Shit
Dear Too Old For This Shit,
There’s two parts to this question, the grief, and the fear, but in some ways, they both boil down to the fear.
I don’t know why you only started to take yourself seriously in your fifties, but I can guess that it probably had something to do with fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not deserving it. Fear of not being justified in making the choices you’d have to make in order to put creativity first.
Fifty years of fear is a lot, so first of all, kudos for saying enough. For saying, dammit, it’s my time now. For saying, my buddy Thelma and I have decided to drive off the cliff rather than go back, because this adventure has been everything and I don’t want to stop.
Fifty years. Fifty years of being second place to what other people would think. Fifty years of watching other people dive into their creative life and wishing it were you. Fifty years of being a wallflower.
Fifty years still casts a shadow, this time under the guise of telling yourself you don’t have enough time to make something of lasting value. Fifty years of a deep ingrained habit of fear. Fifty years of not trusting yourself and your voice.
A single advice column can’t change fifty years, but I’m still going to try.
I don’t want you to grieve. Instead, I want you to be angry. Who told you for fifty years that you can’t? Maybe you think you told yourself. That’s partly true. But who told you to tell yourself that?
Fifty years ago, when you were a young child, and someone handed you paper and crayons, you didn’t think, I can’t. You thought, “I love crayons.” And then one day, the world told you that you weren’t allowed to, that you weren’t good enough to be allowed to, that you weren’t good enough to deserve to be allowed to. And so for fifty years, you’ve been listening to the world instead of yourself.
Fifty years of compromises, of finding a way to kind of sort of not really be creative. Fifty years of waiting for the right time before deciding that the world will never tell you that it’s okay to take the time right now. Fifty years of trying to smother that little creative spark that would not be smothered.
That’s one strong spark. Pause for a moment and think of that. The sheer power and determination of this spark, to outlast fifty years of the world saying nope.
Fifty years of the little spark that would not be smothered. Fifty years of a voice that still demands to be heard. Fifty years of a determined creative spirit fighting the good fight against a larger system.
I don’t want you to grieve. Who has time to grieve? I want you to be angry, because anger is rocket fuel. The last fifty years of being the good girl and not rocking the boat was not your fault, but it still was, fifty fucking years.
It’s been fifty years, and you are still asking yourself, do I deserve this, if I cannot create something of lasting value? What is lasting value? Isn’t the very existence of your creative self—that has been waiting for fifty years—its own lasting value?
I know. That’s not what you meant. You still want validation from the world that has been invalidating you for fifty years. Well, fuck them.
Isn’t there a lasting value, for you, in saying I gave fifty years away to self-doubt, and I’m not giving a minute more? How can you even know what will have lasting value, if you don’t explore that creative self? This is not a set of stair steps that you dutifully trudge up until you eventually end up in Lasting Value Land. This is a wild dance on the plains, that maybe someone will catch a glimpse of at the right moment, and will be overcome by the raw beauty of it all. Maybe it will uplift them, maybe it will act as a catharsis for them, maybe they will want to dance wildly in their own plains too.
Think of everything you have read in the last fifty years that had lasting value to you. None of those writers knew it would have lasting value. They just knew they had to do it.
You’ve known for fifty years you’ve had to do it. Just do it. Drive off the cliff and leave all those people chasing you to drag you back to an unfulfilled life standing there, mouth agape, wondering what the hell? Let them spend the next fifty years wondering why you get to do that, and they don’t.
The next fifty years (or so) is your time. You are going to listen to you. You’re going to put self-doubt away. Grief? Put it into the art. Show the world what you can do. Show yourself what you can do. If the world doesn’t like it, they can go fuck themselves. It’s their fault for telling you for fifty years that you can’t.
You deserve this. You have deserved this for the last fifty years, but unfortunately I do not have a time machine. You deserve this whether you create something of lasting value or not, because everyone deserves this. Everyone deserves art. Everyone deserves creativity. Everyone deserves to listen to their own voice.
That the world has been trying to tell you for fifty years that you don’t, says a lot about how little the world values you as a fully realized human being. Do not listen to anything that insists on seeing you as small. It’s not a world that values your voice nearly as much as you have valued its voice for the last fifty years. Listen to the little spark, and feed it until it burns brightly enough to burn the whole world down.
Create anyway. Write anyway. Put it out there for the world to see anyway. You are indeed, too old for this shit.