Last week I was, again, at the gym riding in my outdoor spin class. Right next to our bikes is a playground for kids in first through ninth grade. During our class I would guess it was the sixth graders who were out playing. The boys were doing whatever boys do. I don’t know their “codes,” but I do know the girls’ because I lived those codes, albeit many years ago.
The girls would form groups of three or four and run around. Then they would go to a place in the field that was a bit removed and sit down in a circle. This would last for several minutes until at least one of the girls started looking around and decided she wanted to be in some other little group on another part of the field. Then her group would disband, and the whole process would start over again.
There was one girl who had discovered something that really intrigued some of the other girls, and they would run over to where she was, stay for a bit, run off, and come back several minutes later. She kept enticing them back to her, but no one stayed for very long. When it was time to go inside, most of the girls got together and went back into the building together. Except for the one “intriguing” girl who walked back across the big field and into the building all by herself.
I couldn’t help wondering what she was feeling. Over the thirty or so minutes that I watched, it was clear that belonging was very important to the girls. Most of them changed groups several times until they seemed to find the “right” group. Then at the end of playtime, they all found their one or two most special friends and, arm-in-arm, walked back inside. All except the one girl who had worked very hard to attract the others to her but couldn’t get them to stay.
Women Over 55: Do You Feel You Belong?
Does any of this feel familiar to you? As I watched, it certainly did to me. I had a clear memory of wanting so much to belong and a longing, deep in my belly, that was surprisingly still very raw. Does this need to belong ever go away? I don’t think so.
We try to fill it in many ways: with a partner or spouse, children, a religious or spiritual community. Or a career, organizations where we volunteer, and various boards and committees we serve on. Particularly as women, we fill it by becoming indispensable to the people who depend on us.
Does this work?
For some of us it does, but for many it is a temporary substitute that begins to wane over time. As we get older, we come to realize that the only true belonging is the belonging we feel to ourselves. I belong to me. I am who I am– and here I am. As the roles we’ve taken on over the years begin to drop away, and as our partners, spouses, and close friends begin to leave, each of us is left with “me.”
So, particularly for older women, it becomes more and more important to know “Who am I?” and “What am I about in this world?”—because that is what we have until the end of our lives. Some women I work with have very clear answers to these questions, but many don’t. And why is that? I think it’s because we are not encouraged to discover the answers.
Instead, we’re often encouraged to understand other people; to take care of the needs of everyone else; to be this kind of career woman, wife, mother, grandmother; to be the model of a perfect (or at least acceptable) woman. Think of the young women in your high school graduating class who were NOT like this. Can you even remember any of them? Unless they caused a lot of trouble or stood out in some flamboyant way, they probably were invisible. They did not fit the image we were being molded into.
Now Is The Time
Enough. Now is the time for us to step fully into who we are, who we are meant to be in this life. Women over 55, now is the time to make the declaration “I belong to me!” What is a first, small step you can take to make that declaration a reality? Or, if you think you’re already there, what is a much bigger step you could take for your own fulfillment and, perhaps, for the benefit of your community and the world? Don’t waste any more time on that field, trying to get the other girls to stay with you, when you could be focused on yourself.
The Prime Spark Membership Community is designed for women 55 (or close) and older to support one another, learn and grow together, and further the mission of Prime Spark. Membership currently is closed but will reopen very soon. If you’re interested in joining, please send an email to [email protected] and ask to be placed on the waitlist.
Sara Hart, PhD, is an author, speaker, and coach. She is leading the charge to change how older women are seen and treated in our society. She is the creator of Prime Spark, a movement to transform how women over 55 take responsibility for their futures. Sara is the author of three books. She also has over forty years’ experience in leadership development, coaching, and building thinking environments. She was director of training and development for a Fortune 100 company. Sara was also an executive director of the Institute for Women and Technology. To learn more about claiming your power as a senior woman, visit Prime Spark today!