They say you should never believe your own press, that you are neither as great nor as awful as any particular source deems you to be. I just had that lesson slap me in the face. Hard. Some of the young women—in their 20s and 30s—from my adult ESL class hung around after class this morning and we started talking about age and how fast time flies. I happen to have a “milestone” (or as I often think of it, a 100,000-mile-stone) birthday coming up this summer and I mentioned that I couldn’t believe I was going to be that age. They mistakenly understood me to say “forty-six” and spontaneously exclaimed, “Forty-six isn’t that old. You look great.”
Forty-six, old? Are you kidding me? I mean, are you even potty trained yet at forty-six? I’m pretty sure I was still sucking my thumb. The fantasy of being forty-six again was so intoxicating that I was tempted to let their gross misunderstanding (and obvious nearsightedness and/or brown-nosing) slide, but I ‘fessed up and corrected them.
“Ladies, check your ears or your English. I said SIX-ty, 6-0, not forty-SIX.”
Now, I am not delusional enough to think they really believed I looked 46, but I do believe they were sincerely surprised at my real age, as evidenced by their immediate close-up examination of my skin to look for wrinkles and check for elasticity. (Not to mention the ringleader urging the students hanging back to step up and do the same.) The women in my family do tend to have faces that belie their age—my 35-year-old daughter still gets carded—so I am a bit fortunate in that genetic regard. From the neck down, however, the illusion begins to deteriorate, at least in my case. One peak in the dressing room after the Spanx and duct tape have been peeled off and you’ll start measuring me for a pine box.
Nevertheless, I left class and headed to the supermarket with a little extra bounce in my step from the temporary ego boost. Make that very temporary. When I got to the check-out line, the cashier, without a second’s hesitation, automatically applied the senior citizen discount right to my supposed younger-than-my-years face. My heart sank, yes, just like everything below my waist already has.
And this is the problem with basing our worth on others’ opinions. We go from the heights to the depths inside of fifteen minutes and, in truth, neither extreme may be particularly accurate. Ideally, the only estimation of our value that should matter, from our greatness to our awfulness, is our own. That’s why it’s called self-worth and not imputed-to-me-by-the-judgment-of-others-worth. Plus, that would be really hard to say.
But here’s the thing, sometimes it’s our own internal assessment that is off. Sometimes our internal mirror is the one reflecting the distorted image. What then? That’s when we need someone outside of ourselves to hold up a mirror that reflects a clear image for us. Many of us tend to undervalue ourselves and we need someone to hold up what my friend Jeanie King calls the mirror of perfection to us. And at other times, we may need someone to gently, but honestly let us know where we’re going off course and help us get back on the right track.
In the end, we have to weigh and balance the messages coming from within and those coming from without. We have to listen to our own voice and sometimes the voices of others that we trust and then decide what feels right for us. We are the only ones who determine our truth. And I have just determined I’m going with my students’ generous opinion as my truth for today. But I’m keeping the senior discount, baby!