On Turning 50: Letting Go of Demons & Focusing on Creating a Better World

I turned 50 last week. I’m more fit than at 20, and much happier too. My life feels meaningful and purposeful, and the dominant emotion I experience when I attend to my life is gratitude. But there are still some demons that haunt me, and they don’t abate. I’ve tried to keep them at bay for decades and all my efforts simply keep them from gaining much more traction. I haven’t cast them out.

The biggest one is the “Things aren’t the way I want them to be and they should be different” demon. This is an easy demon to cast out when the thing I want to be different is something I have control over. But when it’s another person’s behavior – especially someone close to me – and I have no control, but still perseverate on their failures to be different, I create suffering: suffering for me certainly, but also suffering for them.

The next biggest demon is worry. I worry a lot. I can catastrophize in a nanosecond. I worry about so many things: family members, of course, but also whether I’ll make a connecting flight; whether I offended someone with something I said; whether we’ll hit peak oil before we have alternative clean fuels; whether we’ll have honey bees in a decade and who will pollinate if we don’t; whether so many species will disappear that a cascade of extinctions will threaten everything we know; whether the twinges I feel in my leg will turn back into debilitating sciatica. You get the picture.

Yet worrying serves no purpose at all.

It might seem that these two demons might be motivators for my changemaking work, but they aren’t. If anything they are impediments. What motivates me to devote my days to my work at the Institute for Humane Education and to creating a generation of solutionaries able to solve global challenges is vision, hope, and love -- not worry and frustration that things aren’t the way I want.

In reaching the half-century mark, my goal is to practice letting go of these tenacious demons that have glommed onto me. And I know that this is no easy task. It’s going to require all my own tenacity to refuse to indulge these demons, to prevent them from continuing to forge grooves and pathways in my brain that become ever more entrenched, to divert initial worry and frustration into a new groove of acceptance.

By acceptance I do not mean that I will not seek to create change, but rather to choose where and how to influence and help so that I am more successful, joyful, effective and loving in the process.

That’s my goal for the next 50 years, and I realize that it will take discipline and daily practice to achieve it.

Wish me luck.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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