My high school friend went tubing with her kids, and her body let her know the next day, it was not happy. As so many of us do when we realize life milestones, she posted to Facebook, “I must remember that I am closer to 40 than 20.” Before I could type my, “Amen, sister!” another friend astutely pointed out, “Might I remind you that you are closer to 50 than 20.” OUCH! And, true. We were 38 at the time.
This year I turn 44. Sigh. And wooo hoooooooo!! Aging kinda sucks, and it also freaking rocks.
Recently our babysitter invited me to volleyball night at her church. I played in high school and college; it’s how the hubs and I got together. We relived those days briefly in 2015 when some local people organized a loose pick-up group. Like many such groups, the level of play varied, and we had fun, but weren’t challenged much. I expected the same last week, but nope. I walked into a small gym filled with people averaging, by appearance and vernacular, about half my age. I watched wide-eyed as they leapt Michael Jordan high, serving, hitting, blocking, and digging better than any team I had ever played for or against. AWESOME!!! I finally get to play, after all these years! And yikes. I got a little nervous. These people were intense, skilled, and young. “Take a seat, Grandma,” I imagined them saying. But I was a guest of a regular, so I had a little street cred. And, everybody was very welcoming and friendly.
I stretched discreetly on the narrow sidelines, something we old people must do to prevent injury. I reminded myself to take it easy, no need to go all out and pull something. A few more full circle arm wheels and test jumps, and I was ready to go. I felt my heart pounding a little as I stepped onto the court. I was one of two women on my team, and my sitter-friend (the other woman) was very encouraging. I served underhand, as I can no longer rocket it overhand like I could 30 years ago (working on this). Two thirds of the way through the night my right knee started to get a bit wobbly, and I sometimes felt a strange zinging sensation up and down my lateral thigh. Grandma, I thought. It’s usually my left knee that aches. This was a new pain, with no attributable trigger.
I had so much fun. The general skill level ranged wider than I had initially observed, though it still skewed high. I estimate that I ranked in the upper half, maybe upper 40%, rustiness not withstanding. Everybody was mindful to make sure we all touched the ball, a very egalitarian league. As such, I got to pass, set, dig, and even hit a few. I held my own, and it felt good. One young man gave me the compliment of my month when he said I seemed ‘not that old’ and ‘nimble.’ I could have hugged him. I went home a little sore, and more than a little high.
I credit the last three years of fitness training for my utter lack of pain the next day. After all, I’m doing things on the TRX that I could not have done at 16, and I’ve exercised 5 days a week, most weeks for the last 18 months. I’ve relearned how to ride a bike, I can run 5K as a casual jog, and I’m as strong as I’ve ever been in my adult life. I just need slightly more maintenance nowadays.
But the best part of the night was mental. 25 years ago my worry over what people thought of me loomed over my consciousness in a way that robbed my fun. Back then every mistake I made on the court chipped away at my confidence, and more mistakes inevitably ensued. Sometimes I’d have an “on” night, and I always had enough fun to keep me coming back, but too often I’d go home wondering if my teammates regretted my presence.
No more. I no longer have anything to prove to anyone but myself. I’m just here to have fun and maybe make myself better—and I can only do that if I’m with people who play better than I do. I’ll own my mistakes and not beat myself over them—we all mess up sometimes. I know what I can and cannot do. I own all of me, and I’m okay. Looking back, my self-defeating attitude was probably worse for team morale and performance than any dig I missed. Not anymore!
Maybe some people already had this kind of self-efficacy in adolescence. I can recall a few peers in my youth who had that calm, collected aura about them. It wasn’t arrogance or superiority. Rather, it was an unassuming and authentic self-assuredness, which often translated into a generosity that attracted others to their orbit. That’s how I feel now, and I think this manner of self-confidence comes most organically with age. It’s the same confidence I see even more in my older, wiser friends. I might have run faster, jumped higher, and hit stronger in my teens and twenties, but I would never go back. Life is too good now, with decades of accumulated experience and integrated learning.
My kids were there last week. They watched me participate with enthusiasm, mistakes and all. When I commented that I might not have helped my team much (we lost all our games), my daughter sounded surprised. “But you’re good!” she said. Like I said, I left more than a little high.