One of the most debilitating fears you can have is the fear of aging — not simply the fear of looking older, but the fear of time itself passing. And this isn’t at all a “thing” only for older folks. People turning 30 or 40 may run up against this very painful fear – but don’t get a lot of empathy for it.
Maybe you have regrets about missed opportunities and wish you could have a “do-over.” Maybe you have a fear of mortality, illness, or losing those you love. Perhaps you feel less relevant than you did in years past, or that the future doesn’t hold as much excitement for you as it did when you were younger. Maybe you don’t even understand where your fear is coming from, but there’s a part of you that wants desperately to hold onto today.
A focus not on where you’ve been, but where you’re going…
I decided years ago that maybe I could help myself with one particular fear — but it would take reconceptualizing my life. I confronted this fear by remembering that I could decide how to think about time — and with that, my sense of purpose changed and evolved as I aged.
What if each decade had its own purpose? It’s own goals?
My twenties had been tumultuous and I was trying to head in a new direction by leaving the field of jingle and nightclub singing. But that move was something that I had to force myself to do; my pride was getting in the way. I was forced to convince myself that I shouldn’t listen to my ego, but to the small voice that was leading me to a better decision.
So I gave my thirties a theme: “Decade of the Mind.” That lofty title seemed a bit humorous at first, but it made me feel better as I focused not on where I’d been, but where I was going. I asked myself questions like, “What do I want to try to create in this decade? What have I not tried? What part of me or life itself have I not explored?”
It turns out that his whole decade naming concept stuck with me. And I’ve shared it with many who are struggling with their own brand of fears about the future. The process has a name — it’s called reframing.
You can’t slow down time. You can’t stop it. But you can reframe it.
What is reframing?
Giving a new decade an initial desired focus with a positive label helps you enter it with a sense of creativity, curiosity, and positive expectation.
Here’s an example of a reframe you could make in your daily life. You’re thinking, “It’s raining today, and I’ve got to run errands. I’m going to get soaked.” A reframe for that, “I may get wet running errands today, but it won’t matter, because I’ll feel good about getting them done. And I needed to wash my hair anyway.”
It’s turning something that you fear, or that you dislike, maybe even that hurts you, into something that you can tolerate, or even learn from. You’re making lemonade from lemons.
My forties were the “Decade of the Heart.” I was lucky enough to become a mother, and was finally happy in a loving, successful marriage.
My 50’s were tougher. I was smack dab in the middle of menopause. I just wanted out of that, as I’m sure my family did as well. I decided it was the “Decade of Acceptance.” There were more transitions and changes than I can remember in all my lifetime; my parents’ deaths, nephews’ weddings and the exciting births of their children. Good friends dying. My son leaving home and the resultant empty nest. A new writing career.
Learning from time…
The older you become, it’s easier to get bogged down by what you can’t control. What aches. What you’re losing. What’s irritating as all get out. What’s disappointing about the world and humanity itself.
But I’ve learned a lot from time. And living itself. All the meanings of the other decades still exist. I’m still using my mind. I will forever be a mom. There are joys. There are many things that I grieve and have to accept. But my age is allowing me to trust more in myself.
My 60’s are the decade of risk. I have embarked on journeys I never could’ve imagined; I wrote a book that has been translated into nine languages and counting. I started a podcast that is routinely recognized as top in its field. I gave a TEDx talk which, at this writing, has earned more than 1/2 million views.
Risk has felt freeing. Truly freeing.
And… I’m now facing another decade. I’ll turn 70 this year. I think I’m going to call it “The Decade of Curiosity.” That’s perhaps the most positive reframe I can think of right now.
And positive is good.
Try it out and see what you find in yourself.
You can hear more about perfectly hidden depression and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
And there’s a new way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!
Photo by cottonbro studios.
Originally published January 14, 2017; updated and republished on February 4, 2024.