Most recently, I purposely had an opportunity to have a telephone conversation, at length, with someone I have never met. You may think that's odd, however for me it is common practice especially in our current state of pandemic health.
I often call people to engage in conversation to check in on their health, follow up on a past session and to offer grief support or have a bereavement visit. This particular call was none of these. This time it was a blind date, so to speak. As the conversation kicked off it was filled the usual questions anyone asks to get to know someone. We bantered back and forth laughing and sharing things about ourselves to break the ice. We are both in our 60’s, although this person is further along the 60’s decade than I.
In the conversation, we talked about our travels, our jobs, our work, our passions and for this person, their retirement. Since I do not plan to retire, this is a foreign concept and it always interests me how people describe their own experience of it and how they own it. It becomes an “I am” statement therefore it becomes a label, takes on an ownership and identity gets involved.
What is an “I am” statement? Great question. This way of self-description is how we see ourselves in the world. Who we are and how we spend our days. It is tied into our values and purpose in life and when we mix up our “I am” statement with the outside world one can live a toxic, lonely and unexplored life.
“I am” statements get confused by culture, expectation and upbringing. When in therapy we often blame our parents. This is because we have listened to their “I am” statements and their teachings from this frame of reference so profoundly that we developed our “I am” statements around who they see us to be. We listen to teachers, mentors and employers and they all influence our “I am” statement to the degree we get lost in who we truly are!
Think about your own “I am” statements and what they say about you!
Back to my conversation. My new friend says, “I am retired!” and for the first year they did all the things they had not got around to in the past 10+ years. Read those books, cleaned the corners, dusted off the motorcycle, walked many trails and cooked differently. Then they were bored so they got a part time job as a supply teacher.
Our conversation went into this role and their views on doing it and not once did I hear “I am a teacher”. Interesting, because the view they had on what they do is fodder for another story. The point here is the “I am retired” trumped the “I am a teacher” and that changed the outlook.
I then asked, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” and was told again “I am retired” as if that explained everything and was, frighteningly, the end of the story. I added, “you are only 67 years old!” and to that they thanked me profusely for compliment by using the word “only” before their age. Again, I added, “I did not mean it as a compliment, I meant, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?” And there was silence.
In the work I do I have the gift, the pleasure and the beautiful opportunity to work with aging adults. Often very aging and the older olds. As we have been told there are more aging adults now over 65 than children! We are aging better than we ever have in spite of the rising reports of illness and disease and we are doing it because we are changing how we feel about ourselves and revisiting the “I am” statements in our lives. Many are no longer allowing anything to label the aging with “I am old.” This past weekend I was gifted to visit with a 92-year-old woman, who then got in her car drove herself home and checked in with daughter upon her arrival.
After our society says we should retire at or around 65, we could have 30 years yet to live. When you think of 30-year increments in your past how much did you accomplish? What events occurred? Where were you from the age of 15 to 45? 35 to 65? I bet when you look at it you are going to say, “Wow! I am confounded!” because when you take this seriously you can say “I am a survivor” and “I am proud” and “I am accomplished”.
The I am statements in our lives get to the very core of who we believe we are. They label and identify our purpose, mission, and values that we live out in our day to day life. I remember at the start line of my first triathlon in 2017 the announcer said, “Get ready, after today’s race you can say ‘I am a triathlete’!” and I have never forgotten that.
How we label ourselves is how we show up in the world. When you mislabel yourself with “I am fat,” “I am stupid,” “I am broke,” “I am no good at math,” “I am single,” or “I am guilty” and my favourite “I am uncoordinated,” you begin to believe it and so it shall be. There is an old proverb: “As you think, so you shall be” and it reminds us our thoughts are energy and if the same thought is thunk enough…it becomes reality!
Be careful what you think or better yet be careful of what you wish for, because you may just get it. Think clearly and project into your day positive thoughts and more importantly be kind to yourself when you are using your “I am” statements. Listen to yourself and ask “Am I that?” when you hear your “I am” statement. Ask others around you to correct you when you are putting yourself down or mislabeling who you are. Reaching into your heart and partnering with it will bring profound self-love and care.
As for my blind date, they were not for me! I have been single this long, so I am happy to say I am content right where I am…Because I am enough!
Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist, a soul care worker who offers one-on-one homecare for aging adults who choose to age in place. This care includes emotional support, physical care, mental well-being, and spiritual practices to sooth the soul.
She is a volunteer at hospice, LTC chaplain and a death doula, assisting with end-of-life for client and family. She is the mother part of the #DanCynAdventures duo and practices fitness, health and wellness in the South Simcoe and North York region. CynthiaBreadner@gmail.com - breakingstibah.com