One of the biggest fears we face as we age is questioning what makes us relevant and significant.
What are our biggest fears as we age? While illness and death are certainly up there, the top three are something different.
According to Dr. Miriam Adahan, we are most afraid of helplessness, loneliness and insignificance. I’ve been giving these ideas a lot of thought lately, especially the latter point (make sure you tune in to my column next week to see why).
I think that as we age, there is a real challenge in staying relevant, perhaps in even defining what relevant means. I’m certainly not alluding to having an Instagram account or posting on TikTok or understanding what Bitcoin is (does anyone really understand what Bitcoin is?).
I’m talking about feeling like our life continues to be meaningful, that we continue to matter, that our days still count.
This can be particularly challenging as we age and we step back from some of our habitual activities. Perhaps we’re afraid we don’t have as much to offer. (Perhaps we’re afraid that we only matter when we have something to offer!) A lot of anxieties play themselves out in our heads.
But I think the real solution begins and ends with our relationship with God. We are always significant to Him. We always matter to Him. We always count in in His eyes. This should be a tremendous source of comfort and reassurance – if we really allow ourselves to accept and internalize this idea.
But I also think we can tweak our understanding of what relevant means, of what it takes to be significant.
I don’t have to perform some grand gesture on the world stage in order to matter (whatever my age). I can perform a small act of kindness. I can work on myself. I can devote my energy to learning, to growing, to changing. In this way I remain relevant, I remain “productive” no matter what others may think or perceive.
We are very used to judging others – and ourselves – based on what we see of their (our) external productivity. But what about the internal? That’s where the really hard work takes place.
What if I’ve become kinder than I used to be? What if I’ve become more patient? What if I’m more thoughtful? What if I am more careful about what I say? What if I’ve taken the time to really make my relationship with the Almighty the priority in my life?
No matter what our age, our self-image should not be guided by what others think.
No one can tell by looking at me if this is the case. I won’t be written up in any journals or win any awards. I won’t get honored at a banquet or get a bonus at work or receive an honorary degree. And yet I might be engaged in the most important and meaningful work this world has to offer.
No matter what our age, our self-image should not be guided by what others think. But I think that as we get older and perhaps leave behind certain careers, it may be challenging to find our place, to see the beauty in our new focus, to be happy with who we are. We may be frantically, desperately striving to remain current, to stay relevant.
And we may have totally missed the boat. Because the real opportunity for significance lies in our relationship with God. And if we are truly using our time to bond with Him, there is nothing more productive we could do. And we are truly focused on our connection with our Creator, if we are trying every day to emulate His character traits, if we really accept the idea that all that counts is His opinion and that we are always relevant in His eyes, then there is nothing to be afraid of.