9 Ways To Avoid Becoming Bitter and Jaded As You Grow Older

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Kathleen Pooler of Memoir Writer’s Journey.

“Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.”

- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

When I reflect upon my life, which I am prone to do these days having recently retired after forty-four years in the nursing profession, I realize how grateful I am to have survived so much and still feel positive. Oh I have my questions. I mean, how does a young woman from a stable Christian family go off to make so many hair-brained decisions and end up with two failed marriages–one to an alcoholic and the other to a man who stubbornly refused treatment for his Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder, if you did not know, is a mood disorder that can be controlled with medications and psychotherapy. Left untreated as his was, the person can display violent and erratic mood swings and behavior, putting himself and those around him at risk. My children and I ended up escaping in the middle of the day and hiding out in a friend’s house when our physical safety was at stake. My husband could have received treatment but he chose not to. No amount of urging on my part convinced him otherwise.

Soon after, I became a single parent with two surly teenagers. Before it was all over, we had moved to four different states in a matter of seven years. Then there was the diagnosis of Stage Four NonHodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 50 which resulted in chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy, episodes of heart failure, multiple hospitalizations, etc.

Today, as I look back, I realize that life did not turn out as I had dreamed it would.

So how come I feel so joyful now? How come I am living life on my own terms and loving it? How come I am so grateful for the life I have lived?

Now, I may not be an expert on life but, I do have to admit, I am an expert on my own life. So, here’s how I’ve maintained a positive attitude and avoided bitterness in my life. (I do not profess to have all the answers, but this is what has worked for me:)

1. Self-Acceptance

Work on self-acceptance (getting in touch with your uniqueness, your needs, desires, flaws, humanness, etc.) as a first step in accepting yourself for who you are and who you want to be. This allows you to treat yourself like you would treat a treasured friend. But remember that this is a lifelong process with many twists and turns, which leads me to the next point:

2. Self-Forgiveness

Self-forgiveness is essential in achieving joy and contentment in life. This usually happens in layers. As I write my memoir and return to my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, I have come face-to-face with the mistakes, missteps, and foolhardy decisions of my past. Confronting the pain of these decisions has enabled me to move beyond them; to view them as lessons and opportunities to change and grow. (Yes, sometimes it takes years to grow through our mistakes.)

3. Make Obstacles Work For You

Sometimes our greatest obstacles can lead to our greatest blessings. Somewhere, back in my 30’s, I figured out that my thoughts determine my feelings and reactions. I learned on a gut level that most of the time people act the way they do for their own reasons which have nothing to do with me. I don’t have to take their misbehaviors personally. Another way of saying the same thing is “others don’t hurt me, I allow them to hurt me” which puts the responsibility back on me. For me, being diagnosed with cancer fine-tuned my perspective on life. There is something about facing your mortality that puts everything in its place. Life took on a new meaning. Every day became a gift. This leads me to my next point:

4. Attitude Is Everything

We all get one chance at life and it’s up to each one of us to choose how we live it. When faced with a crisis, we have a choice–we can dig deep down within ourselves and fight for all we’re worth, or, we give in, give up, play the victim role and allow ourselves to be beaten. I believe attitude is everything. If we think we can, we can. If we think we can’t, we can’t. Again, our self-talk determines our behaviors, choices and many times our outcomes. I know there are a lot of things in life we don’t have control over, but we do have control over how we respond to whatever life throws at us.

5. Gratitude

When we focus our thoughts and energies on all we have to be grateful for, there is little room for negative thinking. Again our thoughts determine our feelings, behaviors and outcomes.

6. Find Support

Develop your own support system. By that I mean choose to surround yourself with people who enhance your life and avoid those who sap your energy. Honor yourself and your needs by “learning to use ‘NO’ as a complete sentence.”

7. Nurture Your Soul

Find ways to nurture your own soul. I know spirituality is a very personal issue, but I do want to say that finding meaning in our lives is very important. It does not have to, but this search for meaning can involve religious traditions. I happen to be Roman Catholic and find great meaning in praying, saying the Holy Rosary, attending Mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist. Alanon, family, friends, exercise, following my passions of writing, exercise, reading, playing the piano are some other ways I nurture my soul. The main point is that we each need to find what works for us just as we respect each others’ right to do the same.

8. Honor Yourself

Learn to stay still long enough to get to know what you need, and then honor yourself, and your needs, by carving out your own time and space to “follow your bliss.”

9. Hope Matters

And perhaps the most important for me:  never, ever give up hope.

These are just a few ways I’ve maintained a positive attitude and avoided bitterness during the “long haul” of life: sitting still, listening, accepting my humanness, honoring my uniqueness, using positive self-talk, expecting life to send a few curve balls my way, fighting for all I’m worth, taking responsibility for my own choices, and being grateful for the life I have–flaws and all. I try to trust and believe with all my heart that I can do whatever I set my mind to do.

Life is good, very good and I am grateful.

Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a recently retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal, and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments–divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure–to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. She blogs weekly at Memoir Writer’s Journey and can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

 So how about you? What do you do when life throws you a curve ball? How do you nurture your soul? How do you stay positive and keep from becoming bitter? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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25 comments on “9 Ways To Avoid Becoming Bitter and Jaded As You Grow Older

  1. Wow, you have been through a lot Kathleen. You must be a very strong person. Kudos to you.

  2. ceciliag says:

    Oh this is very good, thank you. I have a saying “Is this MY monkey?” Which means is this my problem to fix or someone else’s? Do I want to own this? We do not need to carry someone else’s monkey on our shoulders. We need to shoulder and work on our own first. Very good post .. c

    • Amen to those monkeys!! That’s the first time I’ve heard it said that way but I like it. I also like “send the mail to the right address..it’s not MY problem.” I totally agree that “we need to shoulder and work on our own issues first”Thanks so much for your comments!

  3. JostWrite says:

    Oh wow. Such a powerful and heartfelt post. It is amazing how as humans we all go through different versions of the same thing. The question is how come some get up and thrive, and others never get up. It is always these tried and true ways that we move forward. I am currently thriving through a difficult time, but I have decided that being jobless is not the end of the world. I am going to engage my passion and gift of writing as a freelance writer while blogging and working on a book.

    You bet it is not easy nor is it a straight shot, especially when I am struggling with staying focus, finding clients and finding my voice. However, like Ms Pooler prescribed I am choosing positivity, self acceptance, family and friends, strength, gratitude and faith. There are times when It gets unbearable, but that is when I reach further into the faith, strength, family, friends and positivity I have being blessed with.

    Thank you so much for this post.

    • What a powerful testimony,JostWrite!You are right, many of our issues are universal but we each have our own uniqueness to bring to the experience and our choices matter.I love hearing how you have decided to turn your obstacles into advantages by” reaching further into faith,strength,family,friends and positivity”. You’ve got the key and I wish you much success and happiness on your journey! Thanks so much for adding to the discussion.

  4. kari says:

    This is a terrific article and very inspiring! I connected with most of what was said, but I especially liked the idea of being the expert of your own life. That’s a cool wayt to say “row your own canoe,” which is what I tell my kids. Life certainly doesn’t turn out how we expect, but there are no surprises for God. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Thank you Kathleen for being transparent and sharing your life.

  5. Thank you so much Kari. It has been my pleasure to share and have you connect with my story. I am very grateful to Ollin for giving me this amazing opportunity!

  6. Beautiful, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing your story and the decisions you made to live beyond the traumas and tragedies.

    This has been on my mind for the last few years. As I grow older and have felt many of my illusions fall away, I’ve wondered how to stay optimistic and ‘fresh’.

    Your bottom line – take responsibility for your thoughts and actions – is ringing true for me this week. Thanks for this timely and kind post.

  7. Ollin says:

    I loved the part in 3 where you explain how other people’s opinions have nothing to do with me. That’s is such a hard lesson to learn for me. The vast majority of people send me positive messages about my blog, I’m talking like 99%. But there is that 1% that really gets to you. Even though they’re small, they are very nasty. I had two people really come after me in a nasty way, and what I found is that when it seems general, vague, and untrue than it isn’t true. If it just throws you off and confuses you, then that means you’ve just got attacked by a negative person.

    Usually a respectful disagreement comes off sort of like, “Oh, that’s a good point. I never thought of it that way, I disagree, but that’s a good point.”

    Anyways, what I am saying is that little lesson is a HUGE one and it is one of the HARDEST ones. It shows just how wise you are, Kathleen. I’m not quite where you are yet, but I’m trying to get there.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration! Loved having you here.

  8. Thanks for a very positive outlook on life. In response to your question on how I handled a curve ball, here it is: Once, I wanted a job very much. It was denied to me. So, I had to rethink how I was going about life, what I needed to do to change. Happy to say, I found a positive course and some things worked out for me. While i still did not get what I originally wanted, I reset my sights and accomplished some things I’m still very proud of. I realized I was happier where I was. No sour grapes. I didn’t set the bar lower. I just made a change in attitude – a positive change.

  9. Cynthia, Great to see you here! I think the idea of staying optimistic “in the long haul” can be overwhelming. “One day at a time ” works for me and ,yes, owning our thoughts and actions can be empowering, even if the outcome may not always be positive. Thanks so much for your comments.

  10. Ollin,
    I can remember so clearly when the the lesson in #3 hit me to the core. I had always been the shy & sensitive type,tending to take on whatever came my way. One day,while working in the ER ,I just got fed up with a one particular staff member who had been negative and very difficult to work with. When I decided I wasn’t going to take on her negativity anymore, that she must have had her own problems that had nothing to do with me, I felt so relieved.I learned that there is always a reason why people act the way they do. It was like a light went on. As I get older, I take it one step further. I say a little prayer for that person. We are all fighting some battle. I can’t imagine anyone being negative or nasty about your blog. Personally, I think that says so much more about them than about you. Thank you Ollin for your validating feedback. It has been such an honor to be a part of the C2C community. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story!

  11. Kathleen,

    I’m so amazed and inspired by you. You’ve really had so much to handle in your life. These are very wise lessons. I too like your point that other people’s behaviors are ultimately about them not you. I too reconnect with my faith when challenges come my way. In fact, I am going to make “faith” my go to word for the next year. It’s all about attitude and the willingness to see obstacles as blessings on our path of evolution. Thank you for this inspiration.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments,Sandra. I love your phrase “making faith your go word” and totally agree that attitude is everything. Inspiring inspiration is a two-way street here so thank YOU for inspiring me!

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  13. Alexander Bengtsson says:

    Reblogged this on Commonplace.

  14. Congratulations @earthriderjudyberman for showing us how your positive attitude helped you to reset your goals and achieve good things! It reminds me of the saying, “sometimes our greatest obstacles lead to our greatest blessings.” Thank you so much for your comments. I feel we are all enriched and strengthened by sharing our stories.

  15. Lynne Spreen says:

    I love how you say you’re an expert on yourself! Even that is a triumph, to know and recognize that fact. All nine items are valuable enough to bestow on your kids and grandkids. These are tools for navigating life. I would add one more thing, a quote by Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” So often the thing we find most repugnant or unforgivable about others is just a reflection of our own fears or failings. When I remind myself of that I feel empowered – my negative feelings are controllable since I recognize where they come from and can diminish their impact. Thanks for a helpful, enlightening post, my friend.

  16. How nice to see you here, Lynne. Thanks for sharing Anais Nin’s quote,it really says it all. It always amazes me how little it takes to get empowered. Many times we really just have to negotiate around ourselves to make it happen. Appreciate your perspective, as always, my friend :-)

  17. [...] of gratitude, Ollin Morales of 2011 Top Ten Writing Blog, Courage2Create, invited me to do this guest post so I hope you’ll stop by and leave a [...]

  18. Mary says:

    So weird, Kathleen…I loved this blog and left a comment, but it’s gone now.

    • krpooler says:

      Hi Mary,

      Sorry to hear your comments were lost. Cyberspace can be weird sometimes. I hope you’ll try again.I’ve love to hear your comments.

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