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"Sometimes at 40 and beyond, we forget about ourselves. I had my youngest son at 42 — crazy, I know. I'm working on making time for me. Working out and making me a priority. It's great to reinvent yourself at this age and learn how to make ourselves a priority before we serve others."⠀
— Cynthia Dixon of Cynassists
How to return to college after 40
Self Care by Leigh Stein is a dark satire about female cofounders of a wellness startup and women behaving badly on the internet.
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When I think about who I was in my early 20s, and who I am now, I’m such a different person. I was an extremely naive twentysomething, frightened by everything.
Unlike my peers, I started off my 20s reserved. I didn’t party. I didn’t have many friends. I was quiet and shy.
I lived in a state of constant anxiety, but I didn’t want anyone to know, including myself. I thought anxiety was “normal” and didn’t know that feeling any other way was possible. I thought everyone felt this way, and that was life.
For most of my life, my cynical mind thought Joy isn’t real. Now I know better. Now I know that you can feel joy every day of your life.
“For most of my life, my cynical mind thought ‘Joy isn’t real.’ Now I know better. Now I know that you can feel joy every day of your life.”
Two decades ago, joy was just one of those cheesy words people use in holiday greeting cards. Joy was like Santa Claus — great to imagine that someone, or some thing, will bring you the toy you want, but this is real life, hon. Magic doesn’t exist. That’s what I thought anyway.
Many of my peers’ stories about their early 20s are about doing too much. Doing extreme things. Partying too much. Having a “cocaine phase.” Blacking out and waking up at some strangers’ filthy apartment. Hooking up with douche-bags. Getting their heart broken over and over. Showing up to 9 am meetings still half-drunk. Saying the wrong shit in a meeting.
“Many of my peers’ stories about their early 20s are about doing too much. Partying too much. Having a ‘cocaine phase.’ Hooking up with douchebags. Saying the wrong shit in a meeting. Me? In my early 20s, I made calculated decisions. I didn’t want to make any wrong moves.”
Me? In my early-20s, I made calculated decisions. I didn’t want to make any wrong moves.
My first serious relationship began when I was 18 years old. He was sweet and nice. He wasn’t threatening. Having had a tumultuous relationship with my mother, I needed someone sweet and nice.
I never wanted to hurt my boyfriend’s feelings. I wasn’t sexually attracted to him, but he was nice and I couldn’t say “No.” I thought that was enough reason to be in a relationship. Sexual attraction was dangerous — I didn’t outright think this, but it was a thought I’d suppressed within me. To allow myself to feel sexual attraction and give into it, that’s too scary. That would be opening a Pandora’s box that would have not only opened up my sexuality, but my emotions. I wasn’t ready to go there yet.
Having a boyfriend made for the perfect excuse to never have to connect with other people. If anyone ever said, “Hey Bonnie, come hang out with us.” I could just say “No, I can’t, I have plans with my boyfriend.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I used him as a crutch to not have to connect or get close with anyone else. I was afraid. I suffered from social anxiety, but I didn’t want to admit it at the time.
In my professional life, I let people walk all over me. I did a good job with my work, but I never fought for myself. Any recognition I got for my work was way more than what I had gotten as a child at home, so that was “good enough” for me.
I was terribly afraid to ask people for favors. One time, there was a horrible spelling error on the homepage of my company’s website. There was an offsite with most of the senior team, so it was up to me to ask the releasing engineer to fix the spelling error.
I was trembling as I walked up to the engineer, my power-control issues intact, to ask whether he could fix the error. It wasn’t even my mistake, but I somehow made it my mistake by how badly I felt about it.
He said, “No.”
I panicked. The homepage generated thousands of views per day. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know that I could push back when someone said “no” — especially when they’re being extremely unreasonable. All I said was, “Oh, OK.”
Luckily a director walked into the office because she was too hungover to go to the offsite. I told her about what happened and she immediately demanded that he fix the error.
I watched in awe. Her personal power as a woman floored me. She demanded change and said, “I’m not asking. Fix it. Now.”
He did it.
I’d like to say this interaction awakened something in me right then and there. And looking back, perhaps it was a pinnacle moment. In reality, my own personal female empowerment took more than a decade.
But that moment took me deeper into tech, then into video games — both extremely male-dominated industries that tested my sense of empowerment, over and over and over — having to face that engineer in various forms. I worked with men with different names but similar power-control issues. I felt disrespected as I forced myself to speak up. I thought I needed to be like them (toxic men) to “make it” in the world and especially the Silicon Valley start-up or corporate world. I tried the tactics and strategies that were recommended at the time. I leaned in. Sat at the table. Insisted on my way.
As I spoke up, my anxiety worsened, because I thought I needed to fight the fear and keep going. That’s what the inspirational posters say, right? Look fear in the face and do what you think you cannot do.
Little did I know, the anxiety was not fear. The anxiety was trying to tell me that I was going against who I truly am, deep down.
I mistakenly thought I needed to prove that I was capable of fighting the good fight. But I hadn’t stopped to ask myself, Do I even want to be here?
Here’s the complicated thing. Those fighting tactics worked. In my 30s, I had successes in my career. I climbed the ladder. I got promotions beyond what I thought I could ever get. My ego felt great, for a short period of time. But reality set in — I was beyond unhappy.
Meanwhile, in my personal life, my unwillingness to recognize my anxiety led me to an emotionally abusive relationship in my late 20s. Looking back, I’m able to recognize that my former partner and I emotionally abused each other. There was a purpose to all of the tears, heartbreak, screaming, and fighting. It was all to wake up my emotions. My emotions wanted out — they wanted me to know that they exist. My emotions needed to be heard and urged me to take action. My emotions wanted what was best and most loving for my own good. My emotions wanted me to realize that I had my own kind of power.
My healing journey started a decade ago, when it was recommended to me that I go to a Somatic therapist to connect with my emotions. It started with connecting to what an emotion even is. I asked myself:
“My healing journey then took me to getting a clear understanding of all the false, limiting beliefs I had inherited from parents, society, and culture.”
I had shut down these emotions for so long, that I needed to learn about how I really felt.
My healing journey then took me to getting a clear understanding of all the false, limiting beliefs I had inherited from parents, society, and culture. All of the things I believed as to who I was, because someone had told me at some point that I was worthless and stupid. But just because they said it, it doesn’t make it true.
It took me to reconciliation with being a woman, and what that means for me personally and professionally. Understanding strength is not simply force. For me, strength is vulnerability, nurturance, empathy, and love. And how to be strong with a healthy set of boundaries and to use my voice with straightforward, no BS communication when it calls for it.
My healing journey took me to reconciliation with men as a gender. I transitioned from hating men with a passion to having compassion for their experience and seeing that men have their own set of struggles. I came to understand that if we want to solve female empowerment issues that many women face, the problem is not only about empowering women. We need a shift in perspective that allows all genders to have more permission to embody both feminine and masculine energies in healthy forms.
Finally, and most importantly, I learned to connect with my own true desires and experiencing how they are gateways to infinite amounts of joy and love, not only in relationships but in all facets of life, including purpose.
“I learned to connect with my own true desires and experiencing how they are gateways to infinite amounts of joy and love, not only in relationships but in all facets of life, including purpose.”
This year, I am 41 years old, and I’m still learning.
I am connected with my emotions, my intuition, and my heart.
I listen to my true desires.
I appreciate all the practical skills I’ve learned along the way.
I say “no” and “yes” when I want to. I am empowered because I live with joy and love in my heart.
And now, I want others to know as well.
It is possible.
This is Living in the Third Eye, Bonnie Ho’s first column about spiritual healing and wellness. Sign up for the free Jumble & Flowdown newsletter to stay in the loop about Bonnie’s forthcoming columns.
Rev. Bonnie Ho is a spiritual counselor, energy reader, and author of the Living in the Third Eye column for Jumble & Flow. After spending most of her adult life trying to prove her own worth through an analytical career, Bonnie found a spiritual path that led her back to herself and her own heart. Now, Bonnie aims to help others heal their wounds, find their joy, and embrace their intuition and true desires, in a grounded, balanced way.
Bonnie is available for spiritual guidance and energy readings. Visit bonniehoinsights.com to learn more.
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Adventures in Perimenopause, essays by women in perimenopause and menopause
Perimenopause & Menopause Information
In My Prime, interviews with women thriving in midlife
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