Art + Design

Lisa Congdon on Getting Older and Thriving

The glory of growing older is the freedom to be more ourselves—to become more liberated, engaged, and empowered, and to worry less about what other people think.

An open letter of encouragement to women of all ages, artist and author Lisa Congdon’s newest book A Glorious Freedom celebrates extraordinary lives lived over the age of 40, redefining what it means to grow older. The following excerpt details Congdon’s inspiration behind writing the book, as well as her personal thoughts and realizations around the beauty that comes with age.

A Glorious Freedom

 

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life—it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was wait­ing for me. I fit into me now. I have an organic life, finally, not necessarily the one people imagined for me, or tried to get me to have. I have the life I longed for. I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I would be.”

—Anne Lamott

I am a self-described late bloomer. By profession, I am an artist, an illustrator, and a writer. I did not begin drawing or painting until I was 31 years old. I did not begin my illustration career until I was 40. I did not begin writing regularly until I was 42. I did not publish my first book until I was 44. I did not get married until I was 45. I just pub­lished my seventh book. My eighth comes out next year.

Every year that passes, I become braver, stronger, and freer. Getting older has, for me, been an enormously gratifying and liberating process. I am a kinder person to others than I have ever been, and I also care far less than I ever have about what other people think of me. I am both more determined and harder working than I was when I was younger, but I also value experiencing joy in my life over my work ethic more than I ever have. I am both more secure and more vulnerable. Out of years of living with intense insecurity and trepidation, the wisdom of age has taught me the importance of courage and that my own unique path is just that—my own unique path. Aging, as Anne Lamott so eloquently put it, has led me to myself.

A Glorious Freedom by Lisa Congdon

In an effort to express my feelings on the topic, I wrote a short essay on getting older in 2014 and published it on my blog. That essay was quickly shared by thousands on the Internet, both through my blog and through social media channels. Although I have a decent social media following and a devoted audience of blog readers, I am not a celebrity or a full-time blogger, so the attention this essay garnered was rather phenomenal. I realized that if the topic of getting older and thriving was reso­nating so strongly with so many women, then I needed to explore it further.

Historically and across cultural divides, women have been told to remain silent, to sit still, to hold back, not to shine. In addition, women have traditionally regarded their ability to please others—over following their own dreams and desires—as one of their greatest strengths. Furthermore, for countless generations, women have been told that once they hit middle age, their opportunity for greatness has passed.

A Glorious Freedom by Lisa Congdon

And so the resilience and courage demon­strated by women, and, in particular, the ever-growing population of older women, to challenge and redefine these notions is one of the most exciting things to observe in the world today. We live in a time when more and more women are beginning to live out loud, to follow their own desires and dreams, to be who they are, to live fully, to live a second life after their children leave home, or their partners are no longer with them, or their previous careers are no longer meaningful.

And so here I go—here we all go—leaning toward our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, hair graying, wrinkles gathering, experiences accruing, insights accumulating, joy abounding.

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You can find A Glorious Freedom here.

Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon is an author, illustrator, and fine artist. Her other books include Whatever You Are be a Good One; Art, Inc.; Fortune Favors the Brave; and The Joy of Swimming, also from Chronicle Books. She lives in Portland, Oregon. You can see more of her work here.

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