Thursday, February 21, 2013

Maturity and Chutzpah

Elizabeth Zelvin

As part of my ongoing promotion of my CD of original songs, Outrageous Older Woman, I was lucky enough to land a gig at the 92nd Street Y, one of New York City’s most renowned bastions of culture. The program I proposed was originally entitled “How To Be An Outrageous Older Woman.” When I was told the audience of seniors would consist of both men and women, the gender-free title I came up with was “Maturity and Chutzpah.” I performed the combination of talk (therapist and writer hats) and music (singer-writer hat) late in January, and I’m glad to say it went well. Before I take the outline off the neck of my guitar (hands-free notes), I’d like to share my thoughts about these qualities, which I believe are essential to empowerment and wisdom in later life.

I started by singing my song, “Outrageous Older Woman,” the title track on my album, and asking the audience for their definitions of chutzpah. Several of them gave variants of the dictionary definition.

chutzpah (ch pronounced with a gargle, not as in “choo-choo”) 1. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall. 2. audacity; nerve.

For me, chutzpah starts with calling myself an Outrageous Older Woman. I have the T shirt, which inspired the song. I’ll wear it when I go running in Central Park—and forget I have it on until I notice that women of a certain age are all smiling at me. Chutzpah includes taking risks and not caring what people think, or at least not being deterred from taking risks or being outrageous by fear of what people will think. Above all, chutzpah is the willingness to embarrass your children. It’s never too late for that!

Through my professional work as a therapist and many years of life experience, I’ve seen plenty of people avoiding maturity as well as many people working on it. It’s a lifelong process that takes a lifetime of experience to develop. I’ve boiled it down to three essential qualities: self-knowledge, persistence, and resilience.

Here are some questions you can use as a do-it-yourself assessment of your own maturity.

Self-Knowledge How do I define myself? What are my roots, and to what extent am I connected with them? What have I done that I am proud of? What limitations do I acknowledge? What have I learned from my mistakes? What do I regret doing? What do I regret not doing? Is it really too late? Is it ever too late?

Persistence When is my persistence a strength (perseverance)? When does my persistence become excessive (stubbornness)? What lessons learned from being persistent? What lessons have I learned from letting go?

Resilience What experiences and losses have I bounced back from? How many times have I reinvented myself? What (or who) keeps me going when times get tough?

There’s only one trick question in the bunch: “Is it ever too late?” I strongly recommend that you answer “No” and act accordingly. My first novel was published on my sixty-fourth birthday, the CD a month before I turned sixty-eight. My mother was older than that when she got a doctorate and became a college professor. I know a woman who got a tattoo as her eighty-eighth birthday present to herself. (The tattoo was a ball of yarn and knitting needles.) My aunt fell in love at ninety-two and still plays tennis at going on 101. So what are you waiting for?


Sheila Connolly said...

You go, Liz! I'm proud to be a member of the club.

I once took my grandmother to a performance at the 92nd Street Y--we had stage seats, behind the performers.

Anonymous said...

I with you, Liz! We need much more of that kind of advice!

Unknown said...

Liz, keep stirring it up. Congratulations on the Y Gig.

Unknown said...

Go Liz! Keep stirring us all up! Congratulations on the Y gig!

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