This summer I celebrated my third anniversary as an immigrant to Germany. I was first given an allowance to live here for 1 year with specific limitations, then for 2 years and now finally I have a pass that allows me to live in Germany indefinitely. The document states, “Unbefristet. ” It means “without restrictions,” but as I looked up the definition I saw that the word also means “Unlimited.”
And there it was, that inspirational, yet elusive word–“unlimited.”
The word first struck me around 2008 when I saw the broadway show “Wicked.” I heard the character singing unbelievable notes with lyrics about being “unlimited.” My mind was blown. When I heard the song, I knew that I wanted to feel “unlimited” too but at the time I felt the limits all around. Then a few years later I was drinking tea at home. The tag on the tea bag said, “You are unlimited.” I pulled it off and kept it as a reminder to try to live as if I were unlimited even when I felt the opposite. I have kept that little paper with me through at least two moves and it is now hanging on a bulletin board in my daughter’s room. Perhaps it won’t take her so long to reject the limits and achieve in life.
What’s interesting is that the unlimited allowance to live in Germany has come in the same year as the big 4-0. 40 years on this earth, and the good new is: most days I finally feel “unlimited” in life and not only because the German government has sanctioned it.
I know now that I can do anything and when I look back I realize I could’ve always done anything. It was me who made the limits. Likely none of us need 35-40 years of limiting ourselves to finally become free. Likely we spend a lot of time in life denying ourselves success and satisfaction because we see the limits instead of seeing the path forward.
But I was talking with a friend the other day, who is in the television industry and I realized that everyone does not feel so positive about racking up the years. This discussion of age reminded me that our society so highly values youth and doesn’t necessarily encourage or reward people who have experienced life long enough to let go of their limits and share something meaningful with the world. I wondered then– what is the youth obsession really all about?
Here is what I figured out: In the case of the entertainment industry it seems the obsession with youth is mostly about appearances and potential. Those things are a real turn-on for everyone. I suppose looking at someone who has already reached their potential is not nearly as exciting as looking at someone who is just at the beginning. The seduction is always in what “could be. But it is a dangerous business valuing things purely on their potential, as every stock broker and thwarted lover knows.
Outside of that gamble, being obsessed with age and appearances is limiting for a number of obvious reasons. Only one of which is the fact that the outer beauty we are born with is the one thing over which we have very little control. Should our value on this earth be dictated purely by that and a ticking age clock?
This line of thinking took me further. I thought about actresses like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench. Do they offer less now that they are older? Not really, it seems to me they offer more. Then I thought about Sandra Bullock–she’s 53! Of Marissa Tomei, she’s 52 now, even Reese Witherspoon is 41. Jennifer Aniston is 48, Ashley Judd and Julia Roberts are 49 and Nicole Kidman is 50. These women have done and continue to do great work. They have lived. When I see them on film I would not rather see a younger version of them. They have something so trustworthy, so awesome, so believable to offer on the screen now. They also offer a myriad of things off screen–wisdom and ideas, direction and insight. Aside from all that they have an opportunity to use their voices to enact change, revealing stories and angles we may have never seen.
That they are fighting battles to be seen, heard or appreciated in the industry is a mystery to me because what they have to offer is so obvious.
When I’m being honest, I actually feel now a lot more beautiful on the inside at 40 than I did at 25 or 30 because I know what I’m made of. I’m not waiting for someone to answer life’s questions for me. I’m not hoping someone will give me my break. My every life decision is not based on whether someone will hire me, like me or want me.
I’d love to look the way I did when I was 25 but honestly I’d never go back– unless I could take the wisdom, security and the unlimited feeling of 40 with me.
So here’s the truth that we all need to hear: No matter where you are on life’s road–know this: you are already unlimited. You might not be able to impact huge change in the world but you can make out of every situation what you will. Look around you, check to see if you are being limited by others or if you are setting limits based on your own fear. Look for the path forward and believe that you are unlimited until you really believe it …or until the German government gives you a certificate that says it.
Thanks for a great three years Germany and for the reminding me that in life, over the things we can control, we are unlimited.
“We are diamonds, taking shape.” -Coldplay