What Flamenco Taught Me About Aging

europe Jan 21, 2020

I was entranced as I watched the flamenco dancers on stage wave their hands, stomp their feet, and make facial expressions with a fervor and intensity I've never seen before.  They felt the music so deeply, it was as if they were compelled to move by something beyond the music.  It came from their soul.  I also noticed that these women were older than the typical dancers often seen on stages around the world. 

I went home that night to my apartment in Valencia, Spain and researched the history and tradition of flamenco dancing.  According to Wikipedia, it turns out that "...older dancers are considered to have the emotional maturity to adequately convey the duende (soul or spirit) of the genre.  Duende or tener duende ("to have duende") is a Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion, expression, and authenticity, often connected with flamenco. Therefore, unlike other dance forms, where dancers turn professional through techniques early on to take advantage of youth and strength, many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak until their thirties and will continue to perform into their fifties and beyond."

How incredible would it be to live a life full of duende?  To make decisions, take actions, and express emotions that are deeply and authentically you.  And to look forward to aging because you know that the more experiences you have and knowledge you acquire, the more connected you will be to your true spirit. 

In a world of publications celebrating the successes of "30 Under 30" and "40 Under 40", it was great to see an article this month about a woman that requested to see inspiring middle-aged success stories.  She was flooded with amazing responses of people that "peaked" later in their lives.

Watching flamenco reminded me that we can "peak" at any age, and even at several different times in our lives.  Sometimes the life you're living when you’re 35 is a reflection of the one you imagined when you were 22. This 22-year-old vision you are living out now may or may not reflect your current values and interests.

It’s important to re-create a vision for your life that is more consistent with what you want now, no matter what age.

When you’re clear on what you want, it can be almost immediate that your life begins to include those very things.

The problem is that many people see their desires as mutually exclusive. Either they get to have a high paying job, or they get to make an impact on the world. Either they get to work on high-profile projects or they get to pick up their kids from school.

Does your current vision of your life have a similar “either/or” quality?  If so, your vision is too small.

You need to begin cultivating a much broader vision of what's possible for you.  Here are two steps to get you there. 

Step 1: Begin by writing a list of all your dreams—all of the things you would love to accomplish in your life. Don’t hold back. 

If you need help, close your eyes, think about what would make you happy in your life. No dream is too big. If you are still drawing a blank, write down ten things you would do if you had no fear of judgment or criticism.

If you’re still having trouble coming up with a list of dreams, create a list of the ways you want to feel (i.e. energized, inspired, excited).  Then after you’ve written this list of feelings, write a list of dreams, that if accomplished, would make you feel those ways.  Close your eyes, imagine feeling those feelings and see what comes to you.

Step 2: Now, imagine you are being profiled in a Forbes article or any other high-profile magazine or newspaper in your field. The article is called “People at Every Age That Made Their Dreams Come True.”

Allow yourself to write about your life as the author of this article. Use your name and the pronouns you’d want someone to use when referring to you (i.e., “It all started when Sarah had a conversation with her boss about...”).

Explain the setbacks and failures as the obstacles you needed to overcome. Include the people in your life who helped you or may have held you back. Write about how you persisted because you wanted more; the partner or mentor that believed in your potential and supported you or gave you an opportunity.  Write about what your life looks like now. Finally, describe the way you feel now that your dreams have come true and you have the emotional maturity to appreciate the journey.

When you read the story back to yourself, notice how it makes you feel. Let it light you up with excitement and possibility.  Let it make you take action toward achieving those dreams.  Let it ignite your duende - your spirit.   Let it make you yell, "Olé!"

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