Introducing Diane England, Ph.D.
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I look in the mirror again. Really, that old and tired-looking face staring back at me is indeed how I look to the outside world? But how can this be? I feel inside as if I’m at least twenty years younger. And mentally, when I’m not facing a mirror, I tend to perceive myself not that differently from the woman who could once stare at her reflection and feel renewed confidence that she could charge forth and meet whatever life might set before her that particular day.

As I stare at that face so unlike the one I ever knew or imagined for myself, for that matter, I find the question popping into my mind: How many good years might I actually have left? Also, how do I use them wisely or live them well?

Of course, to answer these questions, I realize I must ponder more questions yet. After all, I must decide what beliefs I should adhere to, as well as what behaviors I must engage in, so that should I remain alert at that time when I realize the end is indeed drawing near, I might be at peace with the fact that, to my way of thinking at least, I played my final innings well.

And so, I soon find myself looking for inspiration and guidance. I come across the quote from Albert Einstein: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

Of course, I suspect Einstein didn’t write this for older people. However, I decide it might have particular relevance for me. After all, those days when I could strive to be a success in the way my society defines success will likely soon be behind me. Thus, I’ll only create negative feelings within myself if I focus my attention still purely on that goal of success. So, in these final years of my life, wouldn’t it make sense to follow Einstein’s advice and strive to be of value instead?

I feel a sense of excitement and renewed energy as I embrace this idea. But almost as quickly, the air begins to seep out of this balloon, and I find myself returning to the reality of my world—of my society, to be more exact. After all, it does not particularly value people of my age. And so wouldn’t it be like beating my head against the wall to try and convince my society that I indeed have value?

But then, I remind myself I can still be of value in my own community. In fact, this might be one of the advantages of living in an active adult community, I tell myself. Certainly, there are always volunteer tasks available to me if I’ll but make my willingness to help known. Furthermore, there are small ways I can help fellow residents experience more joy in their lives—if I’ll but discipline myself to do them. And so, I remind myself to buy some more cards and stamps to have in the house which I can immediately send whenever I hear someone is unwell. Oh, and I’ll try to recognize more birthdays with cards, too.

Shortly thereafter, I come across an article a psychologist has written for Psychology Today. He suggests that it’s important to just accept yourself as worthy and of value just because you exist. Therefore, perhaps I should believe this in itself is enough and hence, I can feel free to go about my days doing those things that bring me joy and make my heart sing even if I’m not being of value to others?

Except doesn’t the singer or musician need an appreciative audience? And could we not say the same of those who have acted in and directed movies? Well, and for that matter, doesn’t the restaurant need customers to remain in business and provide some people with jobs—even if they’re service jobs and not the higher paying jobs which our society so needs? Plus, when I take the day trips I so enjoy, I’m also helping to keep others employed in whatever place I might be visiting that day, isn’t that so?

I end this conversation with myself feeling as confused as I began it. I’m still uncertain as to what I should believe as well as how I should behave—to best play out my final innings. Meanwhile, the face staring back at me from that mirror tells me that if I don’t come up with a game plan soon, well, they might not be played out as well as they could have been. And where’s the value in that?