Wiser for the Win

I was toodling about on Santa today, and bethought myself: You cannot ride from toughness and strength anymore, Grace Ann. You have to ride from lightness and quiet. (I listened to my blog buddies and did not hang up my spurs.)

What does that mean to ride from lightness? It means that if you are tough and strong and can go forever, you can in some moments “arm wrestle” the horse into doing what you want. You might use a firm hand on the bit, repetition, or a stout leg aid to figuratively shout at the horse when himself is ignoring your cues. Of course, that can inspire many horses to shout right back.

Most equines, though, are pretty willing to do as you ask, if you ask so they can hear the question. Present one question at a time, give the beast a moment to consider how to answer. If he guesses wrong, ask again–nicely–and so on. Don’t shout. Getting into a power struggle with a horse is never a good idea, but for me, now, that has ceased to be even a momentary option.

The challenge has become to see how quietly and precisely I can ask–for a canter depart, for change of direction, for a halt–and get the desired result in an organized, balanced fashion. We’re going for subtlety here, folks, and the irony is, this is how I should have been riding all along. I tried to–honest, I did–but when you know the horse will respond to figurative bellowing, finding the patience and determination to whisper is challenging.

This encounter with the horse led me to consider all the skills I’ve acquired later in life that would have stood me in good stead earlier. I’m much better about saying no to commitments that have the potential to snowball, and no to people who show a tendency to become difficult. I’m no longer as prone to doing my F. Lee Bailey impersonation, turning every discussion into a Supreme Court closing argument. The legal-beagle nerve endings still fire, but I don’t get as wound up for the sake of hearing my own foghorn.

I am more likely to consider strategic questions: Who benefits in the short term, and who benefits in the long term? Is this important or just urgent? Is it my urgency or somebody else’s? How does privilege play into this situation? Why am I talking? (Thanks to Austin Kleon for that last one… acronym WAIT).

We lose a little as we age. I cannot recall where I put my riding helmet half the time, and my ability to gain and maintain physical strength is a fond memory. But what I have instead is substantial in a different way, and at least as useful.

How has your store of wisdom and skills changed over time? Any new skills edging their way into the picture? Any new approaches to longstanding challenges that might have stood you in good stead earlier in life?

To three commenters, I will send e-ARC’s of Miss Desirable, or–if I get my print ARCs–advanced copies of Never a Duke, because April is coming!


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17 comments on “Wiser for the Win

  1. I try to keep my musical skills current–I still take private voice lessons and piano lessons. I know if I stop completely I won’t gain it back and it’s a question of *use it or lose* it for me.

    The big thing I’ve revamped my attitude about is this–not every Hill needs to be fought over and I ask myself over and over “is this a Hill I’m willing to die on?” When my kids were in the their teens, I started to form this attitude. We told them they could grow their beards, hair or mustaches as long as they wanted (we got Soul patches, Goatees, Amish beards and an assortment of mustaches) but as long as they were in high school they couldn’t dye their hair (as was the fashion) any color not found in nature. It worked out.

    I see some of my peers fight over stupid stuff with their spouses or kids or their kids’ spouses. Relationships with those we love can be fragile–do really want to be estranged for years over wedding flowers?

  2. I wish I had learned to smile and nod earlier on. That would have saved me a lot of heartache and worry. And I so wish I had learned to say NO earlier-no baking for school projects, no to being a girls scout leader, no to hosting holiday meals. I have simplified my dinner Menus which is a stress reliever.

    Have have learned to be patient, kind and a better listener over the past 30 years. And I have learned to take better care of me- eating better & walking.

    I think learning to compromise- at home, work & friends is a life long lesson.

  3. While I am about as passionate about things as I was in my 20s, I no longer tell everybody or try to convince them I’m right. I’ve learned that it tends to upset me more than anybody else and you “can’t fix stupid.” Yes, that’s a not-so-subtle dig but I am more accepting that even reasoned arguments don’t change the minds of some people. So I save my breath more these days. I also say “no” more often if I just don’t want to do something and I have to option to do so. I try to be gentle but I do say “no” whereas guilt would have had me saying “yes” before. Now I’m working on keeping my eye rolls/facial grimaces to a minimum because my face tends to tell a story I’m trying to keep secret (masks have been pretty helpful in these situations).

  4. Reaching seventy four this year has been an eye opener.If I could help friends family even strangers with anything they where finding difficult I would.But lately I back off.I am more cautious and commit myself only if I can make a situation have better outcomes.I don’t cope as well if it all goes wrong and rebounds back on me.In other words I’ve lost : my bottle;I am not the problem solver or negotiater or calm/peace maker of people that I once was.Then it was part of my job and being a mother.I wait now and if I am asked and if I can be useful I will sometimes.I can say NO and feel okay about it.Life’s lessons do change along the way and there is a time to stand back and re-evaluate.Time to think of my own situation and health and future.This week I have read all of Violets mysteries.Enjoyed them all.Another book to let us know what happens,Violet deserves a happy ending.Thank you so much.

  5. I wish I had discovered meditation earlier in life. How much stress I might have saved myself!! Also, I wish I had pursued Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for Insomnia earlier in life. What a game changer.

    I’m glad to hear you did not give up horse riding. Good for you learning to whisper now!

  6. With age I have cultured both more and less patience with other people. I appreciate friendly acquaintances and dear friends more, those I’ve met through my husband’s musical groups, those I’ve met through our senior center’s fitness and sports groups, and other casual and dear friends we have encountered along the way. At the same time, I have found myself with less patience for people who I consider toxic; people who only maintain contact for what they can get, people with whom friendship was a one way street, with me always doing the giving and getting little to nothing in return. Those people I have finally cut out of my life and I am all the better for it (though I will admit to some grieving for what could have been). I am glad you have not hung up your spurs! It would be sad to quit something you are so passionate about! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  7. I’m learning to stop wasting my energy on people who don’t deserve it & focus more on me now I’m at a point of gradually reducing resources & reinvention of self for the next stage of life.

  8. While there was a time when I would fight the (verbal) fight to get my point across and try to change people’s minds or at least get them to see my point of view. I learned to pick my battles and that sometimes it was a hopeless fight and not worth the effort and frustration. This has been useful over the years in multiple ways.

    It made motherhood easier in that it was easier to let the kids make choices that I might not love but wouldn’t hurt them or anyone else. You want to eat pickles on your PBJ and Nutella sandwich? Gross, but fine, maybe try a couple bites before putting them on the entire thing. I have heard “WHY did you let me go out of the house wearing that?!” more than once, but that’s ok.

    It took many more years for me to learn to say No and avoid everything that comes with trying to do too much – and deal with the people with whom I’d need to bite my tongue to avoid arguing.

  9. So glad you’re still riding! And WAIT is going to be a new favorite acronym. My skills are changing, and some are diminishing, despite wanting to keep them, but realistically not needing them or exercising them. The retention of physical capacities is a focus/priority this year…I want to keep up with my friends in their 70s, if only for a walk around the pond with tea in hand.

  10. The biggest change I am attempting right now is to not take the blame for everything. I take “blame” when it is due. It would not be good for me to swing to the “nothing is my fault” camp. But, when ‘blame” really does belong elsewhere, that is where I send it (or, at least, try very hard to do so.)

    I also lean harder on “community”. I have found that the whole idea that I can do everything myself is false. (And, O think “no wonder I wasn’t good at some things!”) I can not do all things equally well, so, when I need help, I am trying hard to ask for help.

  11. Aw, I love your new approach to dealing with your much larger riding partner.

    I am learning to listen and not to give advice. It’s not easy for me at all, since you know, I know almost everything. I have a twenty-something son at home so as you can imagine, I spend a lot of time biting my lip and listening.

    I’m learning to accept that it may take me days to remember a specific event.
    This is difficult for me because I had a really good memory and I miss it a lot. Sometimes I may not retrieve that memory at all. 🙁

  12. I am experiencing my age very much as you are Grace Ann! As for wiser, I like to think I am. I know how important it is to hold my tongue and let my “children” live their adult lives as they see fit. I advocate for myself more and therefore feel less like a victim. The amazing thing is that I find I really have not gotten nearly as much right in my life as I thought I had. It is very humbling. For the future I am looking forward to becoming a grandmother for the first time. I will be delighted to do rocking chair duty while my daughter catches up on her sleep.

  13. I am glad to har you found a way to continue riding. And yes I understand the way to continue in a well-known path even though your brain may acknowledge there is an easier less exhausting path. I am not quite sure why I at least often take the hard path, even though I am so aware of how I should proceed – get frequent excercise, don’t stress over work and what I cannot change, sleep more, say no to people who might as easily do themselves what they ask me to do. Maybe it is simply the brain that enjoys a good struggle and want the challenge of solving things, or maybe it is just a habit of taking on too much all the time. Since I have a job where I have to so no to 80% of the requests if I will have any hope of keeping my sanity and not die of a heart attack, saying no has become easier over time, but I still feel bad about it. Recently I have felt inadequate as well, struggling with imposter syndrome, and I thought that I had to study more, be more, be better, in order to keep my job and do better. So as soon as one mental struggle is overcome – saying no to others and try to work normal hours – my dear old brain came up with another scheme: try harder.
    Sometimes I feel like the monkey in the cage in the buddhist story.
    I think our brains lack the ability to take the path of least resistance, or else it is as much a cultural norm to strive and struggle. I don’t know. But it seems to be a conscious choice to go for the easier way, at least for me. Something I have to remind myself and talk myself into, rather than “Of course.”
    This weekend I made another conscious choice to paint watercolor hedgehogs instead of reading about agile development operations. Which felt good.