Aging without a recipe
There seem to be two kinds of people: Those who follow step-by-step procedures and weigh and measure ingredients. And those who wing it.
A recent conference in Denver—Second Act Biz Con, for 40 and 50 plus women envisioning their second or third careers—and a special cooking section in a Sunday New York Times, got me thinking.
In You Don’t Need a Recipe, food editor Sam Sifton undermined his day job, which is to “lay out strict instructions for how to best prepare specific dishes,” by suggesting that we improvise in the kitchen.
Take his roadmap for grilled cheese: “You just need desire, and a triangle in your head: salt; crunch; melting ooze.”
I have a feeling that getting old—which we also do without a recipe—is similar. Salty (attitude). Crunchy (bones). Best not to elaborate on the rest.
The neuroscientist Charles Limb has studied what happens in the brain when creative people improvise. According to this story in The Guardian, before musicians can feel the flow (a.k.a. trust themselves to riff), they first have to hone the skills of their instrument and their craft.
Hence, my “aha” moment.
With aging—as with cooking or any other creative pursuit—we need to master the basics before we can play around.
And, hooray for us. At 40 and 50 plus, we are masters!
Second Act Biz Con featured some extraordinary women who have successfully reinvented themselves. A stay-at-home mom turned urban gardener and talk show host. A building inspector turned social media influencer for luxury brands. A once-lonely girl who created a global movement that connects American-born Latinos (like herself) to each other and to their cultures.
And then there were the rest of us: solopreneurs (like me) in creative fields, business and life coaches, sellers of sex toys and skin care products, and women who aspire to break free of their corporate jobs and start something new.
I served on a panel called Today’s 40 and 50 Woman: Living Her Life Boldly, Without Excuses. At 59 and three-quarters, I eeked in under the wire. I made people laugh.
Here’s what I may or may not have told those whippersnappers.
Embrace the imperfection—Whether its tossing ingredients in a pan, starting a business, or deciding to date, put something out there. And don’t edit yourself before the good stuff flows. Perfection is not a thing.
Keep upping the ante—Camp solo. Play the ukulele at an open mic night. Say “I love you” first. To keep growing, we need to keep finding and doing hard the stuff that scares us.
Slow down—When we are anxious or lonely, our minds speed up. But that’s the opposite of what we need. One of the great gifts of aging is that it’s okay to lie in the hammock and listen to the birds. Learn to meditate. Go on silent retreat. Do nothing for a while.
Have fun—Being earnest all the time is exhausting. And totally unnecessary. Have a good laugh at your own expense. Release your brain’s feel-good chemicals. Put pink in your hair.
In other words, though I didn’t know it at the time:
Make grilled cheese!