Thoughts on feeling stupid the older we get – revealing the illusion of youth with remarks concerning the “older self”

Here’s a thought I had:

As I get older I feel more stupid.  Sometimes, I feel the most stupidest person in the world.  I feel as if I don’t know anything and have never understood anything.  In some respects, it feels as if I have lived a life of illusion, that what I thought about life, and myself, has all been wrong.  In this way, its as if the carpet has been pulled from underneath my feet.  It can be a devastating feeling.

This, I believe, comes about as a result of aging and getting older.  Some of the reasons for this seems to be:

  • Words, thoughts, and ideas don’t work anymore.  When we’re younger we have all these ideas and thoughts which seem so neat.  They often seem the “answer” to everything.  But, as we get older, we begin to see that words, ideas, and thoughts fail . . . they are not the invincible refuge we thought they were.  In a way, we begin to see how weak words, thoughts, and ideas are.
  • Life is less motivated by the fact that you have all this energy. As we age, we have less energy.  As a result, it figures less in our motivation of things and it has less impact on our life.  In this way, life loses its “mania” and excitement.  In addition, we are no longer controlled by energy.  In so doing, we actually gain more control over our life creating a whole new point of view toward life.
  • There is a realization of the triviality of things.  All the things we thought were neat are actually trivial details.  Some are almost laughable when you look at them later.
  • There is a realization that we aren’t as big or great as we thought.  Not only do we find that we are not that great but that whether we are great or not doesn’t matter.
  • There is a “sameness” and monotony in life.  Over time, life looses its “luster” and brilliance.  There is an absence of novelty and “newness” in things.  Life becomes more monotonous, even boring.
  • There is a growing sense that there is something “deeper” in life.  I think that, living day to day, we tend to develop a growing sense that there is a deeper aspect to life, one that transcends words and understanding.
  • Life takes on a more serious tone.
  • There is a growing sense of humility.  Life is not something we “conquer” but something that is massive and mysterious.  It makes us smaller.

Looking at these I see three main themes:

  1. The failure of ideas
  2. The illusion of energy
  3. A feeling of something deeper in life

When these become apparent they often seem to degrade or erode the person and can be difficult.  This is often described as “getting old”.  Actually, they are undermining but what they are undermining is the “youthful self” and the “youthful illusion”.  This fact shows that youth is only a phase in life and that the illusion of youth eventually comes crashing down as one ages.

The fall of the “youthful self” and “youthful illusion” can cause great problems.  It tends to create a vacuum or absence.  Naturally, this empty space has to be filled.  This can be dealt with a number of ways, such as:

  • Apathy.  Basically, coming to a halt in life and as a person.  My observation is that this is actually very common.  In fact, for many people retirement is nothing but apathy.  I call this “retirement apathy”.
  • A “going with the flow”. This means that, as life progresses, you just go along with things and accept whatever happens.  In some cases, this is tantamount to relinquishing control of ones life to “old age”.
  • Try to remain in the “youthful self”.  This seems the unhealthiest path.  A person basically remains in, and tries to be, in their “youthful self”.  A person basically lives a life of lying and deception.  I tend to think it causes a lot of depression and despair, actually making people age quicker.
  • A “hanging on” to the “youthful self” while accepting that one is getting older.  Here a person tries to keep up the “youthful illusion” even though they know they are getting older.  In this way, they are like “half young, half old”.
  • The growth of a new self, the “older self”.  It seems, to me, that this is the healthiest path.  This requires, of course, the abandoning of the “youthful self” and “youthful illusion”.  This path means that old age is actually a time of transformation. It means that old age is a time of great inquiry into life and ones self.  In many ways, the feeling of “getting stupid”, as we get older, is like a calling card that we need to look deeper, and transform ourselves, and find this new “older self”.  If we don’t then we truly “get old”.  

Some of the things, it seems to me, to promote the development of the “older self” include:

  • We need to “unlearn” what we learned in our youth.  I’ve always said:  “The first part of our lives we learn or absorb things.  In the later part of our life we need to unlearn or let go what we have absorbed in the first part of our life”.  This means an abandoning of our ideas and explanations.  In this way, we actually get “dumber”.
  • Get in more touch with ones self.  It seems that there is a tendency to look more closely to ones self as a person.  I’ve said:  “In the first part of our life we focus on the world and our relationship with it.  In the later part of our life we need to focus on our self”.  In this way, there is an abandoning of the world.
  • Look deeper into life. I’ve said:  “In the first part of our life we focus on life as a thing or object.  In the later part of our life we need to focus on life as something that is transcending”.  This means an abandoning of life as events, happenings, achievements, material objects, etc. but as something “more”.

To me, these seem to describe an orientation that can be described as “spiritual-like”.  I don’t mean this in a religious way, though it could be.  I think its a natural human tendency and is common.  I’ve found that many older people develop a spiritual-like orientation and don’t know it.

As part of this transformation to the “older self” we see a number of qualities:

  • A change in point of view and stance in life
  • A need to become someone different . . . a new person
  • An abandoning of things, many of which we are used to and rely on
  • A transcending point of view

Many of these qualities are not easy to do and many people cannot do them.  The basic problem is that to develop a new self the old self, and its ways, must be abandoned and this is not easy.  This is a big obstacle.  Basically, many people create a self that is like a great castle and refuge in life . . . it protects them.  Letting that go is no easy matter.  Some people build such a massive self that it actually impairs them in later life . . . its like they’re lugging around this big massive ego like some great weight.  When a person is like that I speak of them as being “heavy with ego”.   This seems very common with American males who were in their twenties in the 1950’s to 1970’s.

I’ve always felt that a preparation for old age, and the “older self”, is to develop attitudes, such as these, in middle age (in ones 40’s):

  • A “letting go” of things
  • A relaxing and calming down
  • A looking deeper into life
  • A willingness to abandon what one thinks one is

That’s what it seems to me anyways.

I tend to feel that there are several big hindrances to the development of the “older self”:

  1. Habit.  As we grow we become so ingrained in a way of doing things that it as if imprisons us.  Because of this, older age is often becomes nothing but ingrained habit.  This can be so strong that it cannot be changed.  But, because the “older self” requires a change, this means that strong habit tends to prevents the “older self” from developing.  Because of this, it seems to me, that one of the great needs of older age is getting rid of ingrained habit.  See my article, Thoughts on habit and its effects.
  2. The self.  Naturally, a strong established self prevents the growth of an “older self”.  It becomes almost like an impenetrable suit of armor.  As a result, the development of the “older self” actually requires the established self to weaken.  This requires not only an abandoning of what ones thinks one is but a willingness to be someone different.  It seems that a person must do this willingly for the best effects.  In some cases, that I’ve seen, it has happened in involuntary ways.  I speak of the realization of “certain realities” caused by old age, such as the fact that ones body is failing or some illness.  This can “hit a person like a wall” and can destroy the established image of ones self.  Oftentimes, though, the new image of ones self tends to be somewhat negative as it was prompted by a not-so-good reason.  But there are some people who can use this as a springboard for the development of a healthy “older self”.

I should point out that, at the time of writing this, I’m not that old (51) but I can see a movement in these directions for me.  In addition, I also have made observations of older people that tend to refer to these themes.  What I am saying is that I wouldn’t describe myself as “all knowing” about this subject but these are my observations at this time.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Advice???, Aging and getting older, Life in general, Stuff involving me and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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