“It’s the end of the beginning.”

in the beginning

As our life expectancy increases, fifty, long considered “solidly middle aged” may well be earning that spot legitimately. There was a time, not even that long ago, when it was pretty clear that despite being referred to as middle age, fifty 50 birthday- dayswas considered the spot that marked the downhill approach to the finish line. Expecting to make it to seventy-five wasn’t an unreasonable presumption if you took good care of yourself, but your best years were, without doubt, long gone—part of the past for you to remember fondly.

But that was then.

smuckers 100Now, all it takes is a look at the exponential growth in the number of centennial birthday announcements made on the Today Show (by Willard Scott and continue after his recent retirement) to let us know that living to 100 and beyond is not as much of an anomaly asmethusela it was a scant ten or fifteen years ago.  So– thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, as you hit the half century mark, for the first time in recorded human history, (not counting Methuselah and other Biblical ancients) at fifty, you may really, truly, be in middle age…how about that?

And once you’re there, whaddaya do? I strongly suggest your next step is to get a firm grip on what that really means, and in order to do that, you need to take a good, hard, honest look at yourself. No, you don’t need the mirror, or your reading glasses for this particular examination, so relax.

perspectiveOne of the greatest benefits of having made it through more than a few decades of living, is the gift of perspective. And lucky us, perspective is the kind of gift that keeps on giving. When we put down childish things and begin our journey toward adulthood we don’t know that perspective even exists. We live our lives in the present and the future and we have little, if any, ability (or need) to see the “Big Picture” through the lens of past experience.

When we were young(er), like countless generations before us (and countless ones yet to come), despite what parents and elders tried to prepare us for, and caution us against, weelder advice 2 ignored the helpful warnings and sage advice and plunged ahead hell-bent on whatever goal we were pursuing. We ignored roadblocks or assumed they were meant for someone else…certainly not “me.” Blindly we stumbled along, bumping into the stuff along our pathway to wherever it was we were going. Sometimes we ran into the obstacles head first, fully expecting that the desire to get where we wanted to go, combined with the sheer force of thrust and our determination, would move the impediment out of our way.  Sometimes we were right. More often than not, we were wrong.  (Which, by the way, is how our novel Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made, which is about young people who think they have all the answers, came to be!)

challenges aheadFortunately, the injuries we receive from collisions with these roadblocks and deterrents are usually minor–not serious enough to cause any permanent disability. After all, when they take place, we are young, resilient, fearless and last but not least, clueless. We are, as were those who went before us, living, breathing object lessons for why phrases like “youth is wasted on the young” and “if I knew then what I know now” will never become obsolete. And when you when you hear these words uttered by a head-shaking, know-it-boulder 2all solidly grown-ass man or woman in response to someone younger making a mistake, you can be pretty sure they have conveniently forgotten to remember their own rocky, pothole-filled path to their current place of wisdom and insight. Because while the gift perspective affords us a view of the whole picture, it can also make micro memories of the dumb stuff we all did.

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a good friend, a man who was in his late sixties who would hate being described that way, but he’d hate it even more if I used his seventies mens clothesname! In the twenty plus years I’ve known him, he never has a conversation with me when he didn’t find a reason to reference the good old 70s. These were the years when, according to him, life was great-nearly perfect in fact. But in that chat he said, “I’ve been thinking. And you know how I hate to do that—much less admit that I’m wrong about anything. But…I’ve finally realized that the past wasn’t better.” He took a sip of scotch before he continued. “I was just younger. My life is much better now, way, way better than I wanted to remember it was back then.”  He actually looked relieved once he said it out loud, like he was giving himself, permission, finally to let go and live now. His self-revelation did not lost long however and in short order he was back to complaininggood old daysabout the present and exalting the past.

Getting older is not the time not to either lament or glorify the good old days. It is the time for an affirmation of who we are now, in this moment, and what is yet to come—which, 40 is the old agebelieve it or not, might just possibly be even greater than our youth. Victor Hugo said, “Forty is the old age of youth, fifty is the youth of old age.”

He was right. This is just the end of the beginning. Relax and enjoy getting to the good part.the end



If you are a journal keeper:

diary ancient

  • Find an old one and pick half a dozen entries you made when you were younger–during your twenties or thirties.
  • Read, from your older perspective, about the things that were rocking your world. The stuff that was going on in your life that was so monumental as to make worthy of old diarya page or several in your diary. Because let’s face it, pre-Oprah and her “Gratitude Journals” most of us (and many still do) used our journals as a place to vent. We did not use them as a place for saying “Thanks Universe for the good things and for the lessons I’ve learned from the not-so-good things.” Our journals were a place to hold our very own “bitch until it feels better” fests so that we could face the next day relieved of a little bit of our frustration with parents, lovers, jobs, bosses, school, co-reading glassesworkers, friends who “didn’t get it” and the like.
  • Now, as your aged, wiser, reading glasses wearing eyes gaze upon these pages, digest them, and ask yourself how much of what you were so worried/hung up/angry/stressed out about then, matters now. My guess is probably not much.
  • Think about how much SHE didn’t know, that YOU now do. Remember how easily SHE was consumed by self-doubt. SHE survived all the stuff SHE thought SHE would never live through.
  • Smile at her.
  • Smile for her. She’s become lower case now because she knows what’s important—and that it’s not all about her.
  • Close the book.

If you are not a journaler:

high school me 2

  • Grab your high school or college yearbook from the bookshelf, or the box in the basement. (It’s not still at your parents’ house is it? If it is, it’s time to bring it home!) Find your senior picture. OK. Try to look past the wardrobe and hair—it won’t be easy, but you won’t be able to see “you” in there if you don’t ignore your unfortunate fashion faux pas and questionable coiffure choices.
  • Look at HER. Think about how much SHE didn’t know, that YOU now do. Remember how easily SHE was consumed by self-doubt. SHE survived all the stuff SHE thought SHE would never live through.
  • Smile at her.
  • Smile for her. She’s become lower case now because she knows what’s important—and that it’s not all about her.
  • Close the book.


Homework complete.

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