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  • Jan Flynn

I’m Not Too Old to Be An Idiot

Darn it.

Back when I was young and stupid, I did something terrible

I didn’t mean to. But I hurt someone deeply, someone who means the world to me. I’m not going to describe the incident, because that would be telling a story that isn’t really mine to tell, which is what caused the wound in the first place.

There’s no pain quite like witnessing the pain you’ve caused for a loved one.

Sadly, ridiculously, I created the whole mess by trying to avoid upsetting anyone.

My signature style, honed since my days in the cradle.

Let me be clear, though: I’m not blaming Mom or Dad. I own my actions. I was a grown-ass woman at the time.

That time was . . . last weekend

That’s right. Wise old me, threescore-and-ten, she who has undergone therapy and who meditates and does yoga, she who tends to attract the confidences of others who think she is trustworthy and smart — blew it. Just last week. Spectacularly.

Very humbling.

Also, ouch.

My gut is still burbling.

But, since life doesn’t have a back button (oh, if only) and here I am, let’s see what is to be learned from the experience.

I mean, might as well.

“Our shadow is the person we’d rather not be.”

So wrote Carl Jung, or so the interwebs tell me.

I thought I knew my shadow self pretty well. So I blithely ignored it, because who wants to look at their icky side? But that’s the thing about our shadow: with enough neglect, it erupts at the most inopportune times, in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes it’s not our actions that cause harm, but our inaction.

So here’s a takeaway: there are things I have yet to outgrow. Ways in which I am still a raw greenhorn. Things I am not, alas, too old for.

Maybe I’ve discovered the Fountain of Stupid Youth

Peering into it, here’s what I see, still swirling after all these years.

Dishonesty. Not the more familiar kind. Not the desire to deceive or manipulate others. This is the more insidious variety — failing to be honest with myself. Pretending, for instance, that my motive is to maintain harmony when in reality it’s to avoid confronting the truth.

Gullibility. The easy, automatic acceptance of my self-deception. See above.

Insensitivity. Who, me? Insensitive? But everybody knows that sensitivity is one of my strongest characteristics! I’m all kinds of sensitive! Here’s what’s so easy to forget: characteristics come with flip sides too. So yes, I am highly sensitive. And capable of blithely disregarding the feelings of others.

Need for approval. External approval, I mean. This is a biggie, and I know I’m not alone. We could talk about it all day, but the TLDR is: craving approval is like the express train to self-betrayal.

Stupidity. I know, I know. Harsh word. But let’s call it what it is.

Vanity. Weirdly, this is closely tied to the need for approval. If it’s me doing a thing (or not doing a thing), it must be okay, right? I can ignore that little twist in my stomach because I am way too smart and cool to blunder. Right? Right?? Oops.

Self-hate. Wait a second. Haven’t I just spent the last eight paragraphs piling on myself? Aren’t I waving pompoms over here, cheering myself on as I self-flagellate?

I can see how it looks that way. But that’s not my intention. As painful as it is to regard these flaws, if last week’s gaffe has anything to teach me it’s the importance of confronting those aspects of myself head-on.

Because while they’re certainly not all there is to me, they’re part of me. By naming them, I get closer to accepting them. And then I can inch toward extending myself compassion — just like I would if I were talking to a friend who’d done/not done exactly what I had.

Not to make excuses, but I’m just a human bean. A raucously imperfect one.

Which leads me to one more thing I’m still not too old for:

Hope.

May I never outgrow that one.

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