As young people, most of us start off feeling pretty powerful. We have the confidence, naiveté and energy of our twenties and are excited about all the sweet, untasted possibilities of life.

In our thirties, we get our first taste of being older: we are no longer the hot new twink on the scene (if, indeed, we ever were) and we notice wrinkles and other unwelcome physical changes. On the plus side, we’re typically coming into our own career-wise and relationship-wise.

In our forties, we may be approaching the middle of our life, settling down in a long-term relationship and career, enjoying security but missing excitement.

As we enter our fifties, sixties and beyond, many of us feel invisible. We don’t have the looks to be on magazine covers and no longer turn heads when we walk into a room. For some of us, this is when we feel our power begins to ebb. And, if you define power by physical attractiveness, it’s true that we’re losing power.

And yet…isn’t there more to power than that?

Personal power is based on strength, confidence and competence that we acquire over the course of our lives. It’s a natural, healthy striving for love, satisfaction, and meaning. Personal power is more an attitude or state of mind than an attempt to maneuver or control others. When externalized it’s likely to be generous, creative and humane.

Now, let’s talk about love: when we’re young, we may fall in love monthly/weekly/daily with some beautiful new person. Our love affairs are often intense, dramatic and full of strong emotions. Sex is riveting and breakups can feel suicidal. And as we get older, how does our definition of love change?

Through the wisdom born of experience, we can create a life full of emotional safety and self-love, recognizing that most of our dissatisfaction in relationships comes from trying to make our partners fill the needs that – in reality – we can only fill for ourselves.

“Presence” is such a great word. I did a lot of research on its meanings. Here are the two I like best: “the bearing, carriage, or air of a person” (e.g., ‘“He has a very distinguished presence”) and “a noteworthy quality of poise and effectiveness” (“She possessed a strong, commanding presence”).

Most of us aren’t born with a strong presence; we have to earn it. It typically comes from surviving tough times and emerging more grateful, grounded and awe-inspiring.

Presence is a quality that grows as we do. It’s the ability to know who you are and to be that person wherever you go, no matter who you’re with; the ability to draw deeply on yourself in all of life’s constant changes.

As young queer folks, we seem to have unlimited confidence and energy. But, over time, as we hit obstacles and get knocked down, we may grow discouraged and lose our confidence. Often, we just give up. 

Some of us lost our fire years ago. Others spend their entire lives on the sidelines watching everyone else make choices and take action.  What happened to that unstoppable power of our youth?

After eighteen years as a psychotherapist for San Diego’s LGBTQ community, I remain strongly optimistic that we can regain the power and optimism of our younger years while simultaneously developing a deeper access to love (on all levels) and an increasingly powerful personal presence.