Aging is the last call to reflect on our philosophy of life

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We need to ask ourselves where we are and where we want to go

Laura Torretta, organizational systemic counselor and author of the book “Starting Over from Myself with Counseling”

Aging happens, but precisely because it does not ask for our opinion, Laura Torretta and I talked about choices. Laura is an organizational systemic counselor and the author of Ricomincio da me con il counseling (Starting Over from Myself with Counseling). We hardly ever notice, but the majority of the important decisions happen in the first part of our lives. For the rest of the time, we tend to get swept away by the events. When the mid-life crisis strikes, we lose balance on a professional, personal, or relational level.

This is a sort of wake-up call. It's precisely at this time that the words remind us that we have an appointment with new decisions. Recovering the meaning of "crisis" and its relationship with the concept of choice (etymologically, they both derive from the same Greek root), the flip side of the coin is evident: the sense of loss connected to age is an opportunity to reflect, to ask ourselves where we are and where we want to go.

How would you define aging?

Aging is a process, but it is not the same for everyone. The story of each person is unique, and the same is true for the way we face the passing of time. In general, however, I believe that aging is the last call to reflect on our philosophy, on our inner truth and on the values that guide our lives. Basically, aging places us at a crossroads: we can continue to look back at the time that does not return, or decide how to spend the years we have left.

If we assume that aging is a time of transformation, how can we make the most out of it?

The first thing to do is to change our point of view. We must leave behind the socially and culturally conditioned idea that stigmatizes this phase of life as a sterile time. Instead, we should begin to appreciate its fertile and generative components. To do this, however, we must carve out a space of reflection to observe our life.

The concept of “tidying up" has entered the mainstream, but why to stop at the objects? Why not give ourselves the same attention we pay to the things we own? At least once a year, then, we should take a break, recall the road traveled, give ourselves credit for what we have achieved, choose what to bring with us, and let go of what does not belong to us anymore.

Do you agree that in the later stages of life we choose less and let ourselves be led by the events? Can the crisis help us to get back into the driver's seat?

Very often we do not really choose, but we let the context decide for us. But there's more. While we care about how old we are, we forget that adulthood is a state disconnected from years. An adult is an assertive person, someone who can choose what is useful and right for herself and for the others around. In spite of our years, if we do not choose we are not fully adults. As Seneca said: "There is no favorable wind, for the sailor who does not know where to go.”

For women, things are more complicated. How can we exploit the opportunities that come with age?

Even if things started to change for our generations, women very often were faced with forced choices. Educated to be “good girls,” they did not dare, they submitted to the authority of the day, not to mention that there is always a manager around the corner who knows how to hook perfectionism and guilt.

But sooner or later, the race for the satisfaction of others finds an obstacle in its path. It can be a couple that breaks up, a job that is no longer meaningful, a promotion that does not arrive or simply the implosion of a situation in which satisfying everyone's desires - children, spouses, and elderly parents -, leaves no space for oneself.

I believe it is important to establish a baseline first: self-realization is an inalienable right. There is no reason to feel selfish. Therefore, the crisis should be welcomed as an opportunity to update one's desires. It's a springboard for recovering our freedom, to put ourselves at the center of our life.

Women tend to exclude themselves. Don’t you think so?

Women often exclude themselves from power games, because they don't see their potential and because they don't know how to ask. Paradoxically, they wait for someone else to see them and choose them. 

The moment of crisis, however, is not just about people but also the institutions. We can see it in our companies: more and more the masculine pyramidal culture with centralized power, functional silos, and a lot of bureaucracy, is questioned. The feminine culture of care and generation, active listening and dialogue can lead to a new managerial renaissance

One way to interpret this culture shift is to invest in relationships, something that women are particularly good at. Furthermore, devoting more space to interpersonal relationships can give us that drive to get out of our comfort zone.

How can we train ourselves to see our potential?

We must begin to deliberately carry out actions such as loving and valuing ourselves, cherish our qualities and being assertive with ourselves. Let us explore our strengths, the distinctive attitudes that have always accompanied us. We can make a list, retrieve in the memories episodes in which we have activated our resources. We can also ask people we love to tell us what qualities they see in us. Let's write these words down, let's read them often to remind us of our human capital that transcends the passing of time.

Tell us how do you relate to aging?

I was never afraid to grow old, but in my forties the crisis hit. My friends began to refuse the changes they saw in their body. Imagining catastrophes for their future, they started to make interventions that over time have extended without ever finding full satisfaction. Overwhelmed by these emotions, I started to consider the same option. I made a list of the things I wanted to change: when I saw it written, I realized that I was looking at my body with the wrong lenses, the ones that saw what was gone and could not return.

I accepted my body, I coped with the natural and slow biological change, I shifted my attention to other components I had - and have - the power to influence. I took care of my personal growth and my inner well-being. 

I thought about capturing my external beauty with a photo shoot, but I didn't find a photographer I liked. Ultimately, I wasn't ready. Since then, almost ten years have passed. When the time finally came and I found myself in front of the camera, the pictures captured the naturalness and spontaneity of my almost fifty years.

It was in those years that, at the peak of a managerial career, I realized that I had another talent to express and another profession to develop. With counseling, I closed a cycle and opened a new phase that allowed me to capitalize on the resources of the past, redesigning the future.

What are the unexpected resources that you are discovering in yourself?

Today, at the age of 56, I laugh with my 83-year-old mother, letting go of what divides us and welcoming what unites us. After years of scripts in which I was the "dad's little soldier" and the "mother's good girl" always attentive to everyone, I recovered a healthy lightness towards life. I observe how many 'to- do lists' and multitasking I have fulfilled in the haste of deadlines and urgencies. I choose to be much more patient and savor the idleness of doing nothing. Moment by moment, I decide to be as I want to and do what is right for me without having to please everyone and prove nothing to anyone.