I’ve heard ‘middle age’ and beyond referred to as the ‘ugly years.’ Wear and tear on the body and mind is real and maintenance is paramount when everything starts to fall apart. The second act in a film comes at the mid point, the point of no return, when the protagonist is faced with a hard choice. The hero must double down and find the will to carry on. To give up half way through the movie is a poor excuse for an ending. For me it’s comfort in the realization that though I may have thought I play my life forward in my 20’s and 30’s, since my 40’s a new idea has dawned on me. Turns out for the last two decades I have been ready to hear that I am playing my life backwards. Some of the lessons imparted to me early on, I am still unlearning, while other lessons I am relearning today.
It’s my experience that new levels of seasoning arise — awareness from the culmination of experience and reflection — as the slow slide into the big dirt nap or barbecue ensues. As the ancients say, “Every day brings us closer to our death.” Instead of giving up, ‘graceful aging’ may very well be a call to action to continue pursuing a productive and relevant life chock full of novel experiences.
Queen of the Positive Re-frame that I am, call me ‘Polyanna’ referring to the heroine of a classic novel of children’s literature with my bias towards the positive. To this day I relate to her gumption, this preteen girl who liked to sit at a window with a beautiful view and think over her knotty problems. I’ll take an optimistic stance over a cynical one any time. Reminds me of the old joke, What’s the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? Answer: An optimist is usually successful and a pessimist right. Author of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously proclaimed, “There are no second acts in American life.” Well maybe not when you are a virulent alcoholic as he was when he passed from the disease prematurely at age 44.
Because of our numbers, whatever Baby Boomers are doing will be big news for the next 25 years or so. So here we are setting the example for what the last quarter of life can hold for the next generation. Here are a few phrases I’ve come across to describe the way I would like to go. Conscious Aging, close cousin to Mindful Aging, suits me fine. Adultescence, a neologism combing Adult with Adolescence, seems a bit too whimsical as I wouldn’t want to revisit my teen years. Middlescence Transformation or Renaissance is a mouthful, but then again I love to play with words and ideas.
When I was about age 18 I devised a little test for myself to determine who was ‘old.’ This rather simple test stands the test of time for me. It goes like this: I knew a person read ‘old’ — regardless of the number attached to their age — when they said one or both of two statements:
1. “I don’t feel my age.” I made fun of and disdained this statement 40 years ago. These days I actually appreciate the sentiment. Sometimes it rings true for me, except for the days I am dragging my bag of bones around by day’s end.
The second statement is one I still abhor:
2. “Things were so much better when I was young.” The degradation of nature and the trouble we are in politically world wide is of serious concern, though I still do believe the best is yet to come. The follow up question is, “Do you agree that you’d trade all your tomorrows for just one yesterday?” If the answer is yes, this person and I might have a conversation about what that means, but probably not much more discourse than that.
Personally, I am most interested in the wisdom that comes with age and experience no matter how ‘smart’ as in how high is your IQ. Emotional IQ is just as important, maybe even more important, than intellectual intelligence for a happy existence, IMHO. Wikipedia has an excellent page devoted to ‘wisdom’ that starts like this: “Wisdom, sapience, or sagacity, is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as compassion, experiential self-knowledge, non-attachment and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.”
So…to wrap this up. I’m most interested in pursuing the following questions and living the answers,. These challenges define the work in progress that best describes me:
How can I launch a third, or fourth act? I am well into my Second Act having evolved from full time work, to empty nester, and now looking forward to semi-retirement and beyond?
What more can I do to maintain these greater heights of overall happiness with so much suffering in the world around me?
What new challenges must I take on to keep my life on track?
In focusing more on my health what comes harder than imagined?
Lastly, in terms of loved ones, friends and relatives, how are these relationships shifting with time and maturity and how do I respond best?
Originally published at onmogul.com