I have a love hate relationship with getting older.
I was speaking with a friend the other day who indicated that she was looking forward to her 40’s, because then she might get some “goddamn respect.” I remember feeling exactly the same way at one point. But I’m here to tell you, upon reflection, it just doesn’t happen. No matter how much older I get, I continue to run into those people who are older than me, and whose whose response to my age is “I remember when I was that age.” Well, I’ve been hearing that for as far back as I can remember, and it’s tired.
This puts me in an interesting middle ground. To younger people I’m “old,” to older people I’m still “young,” and those who are the same age as I am simply don’t care. This has been my general feeling since I turned 40, an age that I’d been looking forward to in order to escape that very feeling. Neatly circular, right?
I know that it’s easy to label these feelings as my “mid-life crisis,” especially given that I really am in the statistical middle of my life, but I don’t think anyone really has any idea what that means any more. It’s become such a cliche, such a catchphrase, that it’s something we throw out as often as the terms “OCD” and “insomnia.” I haven’t gone out to buy a sports car or a boat, I don’t have an 18 year old hottie on my arm (because that’s just creepy), and I’m not pining for the glory days.
Well, that’s not true. I am. But not because they were any better.
It’s my energy that was better. My quality of life that was better.
But how can that be, you ask? Surely you’re forgetting about the hardships and the instability. How could barely squeaking by be more preferable to the experience and job security that comes as one gets older. Please. Sure I have a better job, sure it’s something I like to do, but am I really more financially stable? No. I’m still just getting by, as are a great number of people “my age” that I know. Hell, even many who are older. I’m just not doing it as interestingly. I’m still in a spot where I can point to myself and say, “you need to get your act together, and plan for the future,” but I’m no longer in a place where I enjoy myself as much on a day to day basis.
I believe the word is stagnant.
Because the problem is that I’m not as adventurous as I once was. The exciting, and sometimes largely rebellious things that I used to do are no longer the things I pursue. I understand that things change. Priorities change. But the activities I seek out now are not as invigorating or inspiring as those I once sought. I’ve become settled, and in order to acclimate, my brain labels this as being “responsible.”
There are levels of risk. Some risk is outright dangerous, while other risk just leaves the possibility for an unfortunate outcome. As a family man, I have to accept that I should give up the death defying acts of my younger years, and I’m okay with that. But what about all of that other risk? Somewhere along the way I’ve chosen to be safe, while convincing myself that I’m not. It’s an insidious state of mind that has been influenced by the elusive quest for “success,” “financial security,” and above all, material gain. I’ve brainwashed myself to think that these things will satisfy me. They don’t.
Whoa there. This isn’t something new. This quest for “stuff” isn’t something that’s come with age. No, it’s always been there. I’ve always been stupid with money, and gotten myself into disastrous financial situations. I’ve no reason to believe that this will change. I can’t, then, blame the stuff, when I should be blaming myself for wanting the stuff in the first place. But I don’t think that’s right either. What I should really be focusing on is why I want the stuff, and this ties back into my enjoyment of life.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my cell phone. I’ve become more attached to it than I should be. But it doesn’t bring quality to my life. The same can be said about my television, my car, my 10 pairs of shoes… but they don’t inspire me in any way.
I once had a Jeep. I put myself into horrible debt to acquire it, and really shouldn’t have. But that Jeep brought me joy, and if I’m going to make bad choices, that’s a damn fine reason to do it. Not to have the latest technical gadget because of its neat features. I can remember when I would spend money on the very best art supplies that I could. To buy multiple cameras. These were things that inspired me, and which at least reasonably justified my desire to own the best. The great thing is, they weren’t always the best. Now, the best things just entertain me. And that’s the problem.
The things I focus on do not inspire me. They trap me. They pull the wool over my eyes and make me think that my life will be better with them.
That right there is the change I am least happy with as I’ve gotten older. I’ve let things shape me, rather than shaping myself.
Now that I’ve put all of that out there, I should make something clear. I still do fun things. Yes, I still enjoy life. Everything has shifted, but it’s not all bad. There are simply some things that I *cannot* do. My body does not have the same physical capabilities that it once had. I can take care of it as best I can, but as time goes on, my activity level will change. My body doesn’t heal like it once did. I can’t expect cuts, bruises, and sprains to heal up in a couple of days. It becomes harder to justify defying death (especially now that I have a son), when I cannot hang from a ledge the way I used to be able to.
I can, however, defy death in other ways. I can defy the death of my spirit. And that’s a damn important one.
What have you given up, that you should be seeking to get back?