I turned 54 yesterday. As I sat with my eighteen-year-old daughter on the couch I thought to myself, “wow, she has a really long time to live.” I get tired just thinking about the days ahead for her — college, graduate school, work, figuring out her life day after day after day.
But I didn’t get tired when it was happening. It didn’t feel like a slog when I was in it in my twenties and thirties. The work I was doing felt life-giving and necessary. I felt like figuring it all out was my JOB.
I just started watching The Good Place. Eleanor Shellstrop, the main character, gets sent to the show’s version of heaven (The Good Place) accidentally. In reality, based on her terrible behavior on Earth, she should have been sent to the Bad Place (hell). I’m just on season one, but from what I can gather, Eleanor learns some important lessons in the Good Place that change her. The powers that be want to send Eleanor to the Bad Place. But in her time in the Good Place she changes and those powers recognize that maybe Eleanor actually belongs there.
In the Good Place, you are matched with your soul mate. You live in your dream house. There are 18,000 flavors of frozen yogurt you can eat any time, as many times a day as you want. You get to fly. There’s no traffic or pollution. Everything you need and want is there.
In the Bad Place, you have to do tasks you’d despise on earth — like hosting a baby shower or cleaning up rat poop all day long. Eleanor has good reason to stay in the Good Place and she and her friends are working their asses off to make it happen.
Last weekend I co-led a retreat with ten women in menopause. We were all seeking clarity about ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. At our age, we don’t have the kind of energy that 18 or 20 or 32 year olds have. We are tired. But there’s a pressure to keep acting the same way we’ve always acted.
Unfortunately, in our dysfunctional, capitalistic, American society, women are told that either they keep up with the younger Jones or accept their fate as washed up old dogs with no reason to live. The United States has the highest number of plastic surgeries — 4,361,867 in 2018, almost 2 million more than Brazil, the country next in line.
The message is that if we keep looking younger, we’ll keep acting younger. We’ll retain our passion to work hard and stay young. Getting older is a negative thing. Women (and men) in this country work as hard as Eleanor Shellstrop to stay out of the Bad Place of aging.
At the retreat we released that pressure valve of staying young. We acknowledged our desire to just be where we are now, to give up the grind and reflect on where we’ve been. Instead of striving to keep up with things that don’t matter to us anymore, we honored the need for rest and community.
What I realized at our weekend retreat, and again on the couch with my young, full of life daughter yesterday is that I really don’t want to be young. I don’t want to work as hard as I used to. I don’t want to worry about being liked or approved of. I want to settle back and reflect on how hard I have worked already. Going back to the younger stages in my life would be like going to the Bad Place.
I’ve spent years in different careers, in different relationships. I’ve explored countless therapy modalities and self-help concepts. I’ve read thousands of books and traveled far and wide. At fifty-four, I want to sit on the couch and listen to my daughter tell me her plans. I want to bask in the comfort of knowing that I don’t have to work that hard anymore.
Spending the weekend with a group of women in a similar physical and emotional place was affirming and energizing. I was reminded again and again that I like where I am. I don’t want to go back and do the hustle I watch my daughter doing. I don’t want to figure out what my major is or pine over romantic interests. I’ve done all of that and I’m happy where I am.
There are lots of aspects of getting older that are hard. I don’t love the new jowls that are forming on my face. My joints are pretty stiff. And I can’t drink wine without getting a massive headache. But even with the little trouble spots, I choose this place. I want to be where I am now. I like getting older. It’s where I belong. This is the Good Place.