Tag Archives: Aging

Have You Come To Terms With Your Age?

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.” –Andy Rooney

“How did it get so late so soon?” –Dr. Seuss

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” –Charles Darwin

Hello friend,

I just turned 50.  I am embarrassed to admit that it was hard for me to type that sentence.  I am still not quite there yet.  Fifty sounds OLD!  Whether it is or isn’t, I will leave that for you to debate.  It still sounds that way to me.  And I guess I am not yet at that place of acceptance or surrender or whatever you want to call it that will have me agreeing that I am OLD.  Because if I agree, what does it say about what I have left in me?  Not much time, and even less vigor to do what I need to do it with.  I need some time to sit with that one.  Sadly (or ironically or something), time is the one thing in short supply here.  It is tough turning 50!

I started processing 50 the moment I turned 49.  It was the first time I could no longer deny it.  At 48, I could still convince myself I was in my mid-forties.  Sure, it was a stretch, but I was in the mood for a stretch at that point.  When 49 came around, though, that was it.  I started telling myself I was already 50 just to get used to the idea.  I guess I wanted to soften the blow, to normalize the whole concept of being in my fifties.  I said it over and over.  I could tell it wasn’t really sinking in, though.

I blame my grandparents and my great-uncles and great-aunts.  My Mom’s parents, as was common back then, married in their early twenties and started having kids.  My Grandma had two sisters, and the three of them and their husbands were the best of friends and hung out together–though they called it “visiting,” which makes me smile now to remember, as they are all gone from this world except for these beautiful memories–as often as they could.  They were all great to us kids, and I loved them.  But they were definitely OLD to me.  They had things like false teeth and canes and pipes—genuine Old People stuff.  But they were in their fifties!  At least when I got to know them they were.  I’m sure they had jobs and mowed their yards and built stuff.  You know, regular adult activities, not senile, nursing home activities.  None of that registered to me, though.  They were OLD.  Period.  End of story.  I think that first impression of fifty-somethings being OLD really stuck.  I didn’t expect to ever get that old, but if I were to get there, then surely I would be OLD, too.  It’s logical.

Well, here I am.  Fifty-something.

Getting over the sound of it is one thing.  That will take its own time.  And hey, that’s the silly, unimportant part of this process.  The much more salient part for me is to figure out what being 50 years into my life means.  In essence, it puts the spotlight on the question: Where am I in my lifetime, and what does that mean I have left? 

Over the past year of processing this, I have probably approached it in almost every possible way.  At different points I have decided I am right where I need to be and also nowhere close to what I should have done; feeling great for my age and feeling like a rickety dinosaur; believing I have special things still to create and lamenting that I don’t have time to create them; and just about every other dichotomy you could dream up.  And I’ve not just ridden the extremes.  I have also slid subtly along the spectrum of any imaginable scale of optimism, despair, or acceptance.  Basically, I’ve learned it’s going to be a weird and complicated psychological ride on the way toward making any semblance of peace with my age from this point forward.  Ambivalence will be my constant companion.  That’s unsettling to me.  But whoever said this stuff was easy?

Although I have tested out every mindset and approach to turning 50, the one that seems to be settling in now that I am actually here is the sense of urgency to do the things now.  All of them.  As soon as possible.  It is an overwhelming sense of “I’m running out of time!”  I keep wondering: How many years do I have left?  And to put a finer point on it since I both work in education and naturally adore Summer, it usually comes down to this: How many Summers do I have left? 

This Summer I spent working hard to complete the first draft of my next book.  It felt amazing but also highly pressing.  I was keenly aware every day that Summer was short and I had to take advantage.  That is a microcosm of how I am feeling about what remains of my life at this stage: there isn’t much left and I better use every bit of it wisely.

I’m guessing there are lots of people out there who would look at it completely differently.  Like, “Hey, I’m only 50.  The average life expectancy is around 79.  I’ve got a solid three decades to go.  That’s plenty of time for accomplishment, adventure, and a relaxing retirement.  What’s the rush?”  I can see that point-of-view.  I get it.  It just isn’t me.

For one, I simply never pictured a very long life for myself.  I hope I have lots of healthy, happy, and productive years ahead of me, but the vision doesn’t come naturally.  The other thing is, during the process of writing this letter, one of my best friends from childhood died.  Forty-nine years old and gone.  He didn’t even make the 50 that I am bellyaching about!  In the midst of my grieving these last few days, a thought has occasionally slipped free of the fog in my mind: There are no guaranteed days left.  It could end any time. 

Of course that is true every day since your arrival on Earth, but it never feels true when you are young, right?  Today, though, when I am thinking about my friend’s kids who no longer have their Dad and his wife who no longer has her husband, it feels very, very true.  Life is so darn short.  And whether I make it to 51 or 81, I am well beyond the halfway mark now and the end will be here before I am ready for it.  That clarity is enough to make me feel older than I want to be.

The bottom line is that turning 50 has ramped up my urgency to be the person I feel I was born to be and to do the things that make me feel joy, fulfillment, and sure that my presence here was a net-positive for the world, especially for the people whose lives I have touched.  This sense of urgency and responsibility is something I imagine will only increase as I age, especially as I monitor and recognize my continued failure to reach the standards I have set for myself.  I simply must rise to the occasion that is this beautiful Life.  I will start immediately, because I have A LOT to do!

How about you?  Have you made peace with your age and where you are in the cycle of Life?  Open up your journal and sort yourself out in its pages.  How old are you?  When you say it, what feelings does it bring up?  Do you cringe, even just slightly?  How old do you feel in your mind?  Do you fancy yourself much more young and carefree than you actually are?  What percentage of people do you think actually feel OLD inside?  How does your physical health affect your perception of your age?  How does the way your body feels compare to the way your mind feels?  Do you imagine that gap will only get wider with age, or how do you see your disparity changing?  How much does age matter to you?  Is it something you think about often?  Does it stress you out at all?  Do you dread your milestone birthdays that announce to the world that you are in the next decade?  Has your view on which age is actually OLD changed as you have aged?  At this point, what is the age when you start thinking of people as OLD?  Are you included in that group?  If so, does that bother you, or have you come to terms with it?  If you are not yet what you consider to be OLD, how do you think you will handle your arrival there?  At your age, what is your best guess about how much longer you will be around?  With that number in mind, how urgent is the need to get going on things you plan to accomplish before you go?  What are the things you have left to do in order to look back with a sense of fulfillment and peace about your time here?  Which is the most pressing?  What is one small step you can take today to move forward on that goal?  I hope you take that step.  Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you come to terms with your age?

Wishing you the most beautiful life,

William

P.S. It today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Our awareness of our own journey improves the intertwining journeys of everyone around us.

P.P.S. If this type of self-reflection for the purpose of growth is appealing to you, consider buying my book Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

What Good Is Life Without Your Health?

“The first wealth is health.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” ―Herophilus

Hello friend,

I spent some days last week in a hellish level of back pain, so bad that my mind was pulled toward a topic I had no wish to visit: suicide.  To be clear, I was not suicidal; I was merely pondering suicide as a concept, examining it from multiple angles, considering the motivations.  The pondering itself, and even more so the strength of the magnetic pull to the topic, was telling of my state of mind.

It took me back nearly two decades, the last time my back exploded and had me almost delirious in pain, culminating in a body full of drugs and an emergency surgery.  Through all of my days of agony prior to the surgery, one subject came through clearly in my otherwise desperate mind: suicide.  I had never thought so much about it in all my life (and haven’t since).  My mind was all over the topic: the how, the why, the who, the aftermath.  The everything.  I couldn’t seem to clear it from my brain.  I am fairly sure the obsession stemmed from the fact that, racked with pain at a level I had never imagined possible, for the first time in my life I could totally get why some people no longer want to live.  Honestly, I don’t know how much longer I could have gone on like that if I didn’t believe a cure was coming.  Pulled from an otherwise blissful life, I suddenly had absolutely no capacity for joy.  It didn’t feel like a life at all.  It just felt like misery.

Some years before that episode, when I was in graduate school, one of the professors in the department was suffering from bowel cancer or colitis or some other very serious disease of the digestive tract.  And when I say “suffering,” I mean truly suffering.  I hadn’t known him well and had only heard that he had something and did not understand its severity until I took a brief visit to the bathroom one evening before class.  It was a tiny bathroom, and I spotted someone’s feet in the single stall as I stepped up to the lone urinal.  That’s when I heard the sounds of a man in the throes of pain and anguish, still trying to keep quiet.  I felt terrible as I rushed out of there, haunted by another human’s suffering.  A few months later, I heard that he committed suicide.  I understood why.

I have been wildly blessed throughout my life, probably in no area more important than my mental health.  I mentioned to you in a letter once that one of the things that has surprised me most in my years on this Earth is just how prevalent and truly commonplace mental illness is.  When I was a kid and learned that a family member had an eating disorder, it absolutely floored me.  I never dreamed someone close to me would have psychological problems, and I was sure it shouldn’t be mentioned to anyone.  As an adult, the more I learn, the more it feels like almost everyone is dealing with some measure of addiction or other mental illness, or at least has dealt with it.  I am grateful to have been mostly spared.  Because of that, my only insight into depression (or other)-induced suicidal thoughts is from Psychology classes and lots and lots of memoirs.

So, though it is a fascinating topic to explore and one that I would like to know more about, I am not here today with strictly mental states on my agenda.  Not the kind that decide it is preferable to be dead than alive based only on how dark and painful it is inside the mind, anyway.  Rather, I want to know about how physical pain and disability shape one’s sense of the value of one’s own life.  Because one day I was feeling physically fine, with a few aches and pains like anyone my age has, and I was thinking I was living a great life full of blessings that I wanted to keep experiencing indefinitely.  And the next day I was doubled over in pain, wondering if it was all worth it to go on.

I admit, that instantaneous loss of my life’s value freaked me out a little.  Okay, maybe a lot.  I mean, is the value of existence so fragile that once the body stops cooperating, the whole game needs to be forfeited?  If so, what of all these emotional and intellectual gymnastics we constantly perform to keep ourselves believing how sturdy and enduring our many blessings are and how they will carry us through the low points in life?  The love of our families and friends, our connection to the Divine, our sense of accomplishment from the work we have done, the creations we have provided the world, the dreams we are on our way to fulfilling.  If it all collapses with the slip of a vertebrae, how solid was the ground that sense of Value was built upon?  I am being haunted by that question now.

I am thinking of the many times an injury has kept me from doing the things I wanted to do.  I have always been an active guy, and I have had my share of injuries along the way.  Usually, I just play through it, as I cannot stand to be inactive.  But even so, when I cannot do everything I want, I know that I don’t enjoy myself as much.  Just this Summer, when a slow-healing gash on my foot kept me away from my favorite activities for a couple of months, I found life much less fulfilling.  Sure, I found other things to do and enjoyed them, but it was much less satisfying than what I wanted to do.  I swallowed my frustrations and did my impatient best to be patient and positive, but that was because I knew the end was in sight.  But I wonder: What if there was no end in sight?  What if I could no longer swim or run or play?  Would my base of happiness start to erode?  I am fairly certain it would.  And then, how quickly would it erode?  And even bigger picture: when I hit my low point with it, would that level still be called “Happy,” or would it be something very different?  Would that something different be something I could go on living with?

Even at this point in my aging/erosion process—I am almost half a century old—I can’t do so many of the things I once could due to previous injuries and simply the reality of a body at this age.  I can no longer go out for a real run.  Bending over to lift heavy things can take me out of commission for weeks.  My elbow hurts after I play tennis, and I cannot serve even half the speed I once could.  Believe me, the list goes on!

For a guy most at home when playing a sport or sweating out an outdoor adventure, this new reality is deeply frustrating.  I was tempted to say it is awful, but it only relatively awful.  That is, when I imagine how much fun it would be to still be doing that stuff, it feels awful to my heart.  And yet, I definitely don’t find that my life is awful.  I am quite happy (just maybe less satisfied than I could be).

I can’t say how it will be as I age and gradually lose more and more of my physical capacities–perhaps my mind will continue to adapt as well and find increasingly innovative ways to find Joy in my little world and offset the thrills and satisfaction of physical exertion and mastery–or if I suffer an injury or illness that renders me instantly unable to perform.  This is something I would like to interview some elderly and physically disabled folks about—the ways they have adapted, and what their perception of their own happiness is compared to how it might be if they had all of their physical tools working at full capacity.  Do we all just go through our journeys constantly adjusting our standard for Happiness and Fulfillment based on what seems realistic given our physical circumstances, most everyone finding themselves able to say, “Yeah, I’m doing alright” even if they would have felt sorry for someone in their present circumstances no so long ago?  Are we that wisely and graciously adaptable, or are we deluded suckers?  I hope it’s the former.

With my foot injury this Summer and at other times in my life, such as when limbs were in casts, even though I was unable to use the limb, I had the benefit of not being in constant pain.  So, even though I may have been frustrated—which I may have described as “misery” at the time—I was not in physical agony.  As someone who has suffered the worst kind of back pain, I can tell you that that is where this whole issue turns into something different.  When you are racked with an extreme, unrelenting physical pain that leaves you simply unable to enjoy anything—no, it’s not that you can’t “enjoy,” but rather that you can feel only anguish, only suffering–we are in a new realm.  This is, I am guessing, where my old professor was.  It is where I was in the days before my back surgery.  The only difference was that I believed that surgery was going to improve my situation; I would have deemed it unbearable if that wasn’t an option.  He didn’t have any assurances.  I understand the route he chose.  “There, but for the grace of God, go I…”

I see now that this is where the discussion really splits and there is a need for two separate inquiries.  Loss of the use of your physical abilities—even with some accompanying moderate pain–is one thing, but severe pain is quite another.  I am coming to believe through experience that I will still be able to be grateful and happy if or as I lose my athleticism and flexibility and such.  I am less sure that that I will feel fulfilled without that physical element, but I believe I can achieve happiness.  I have faith that my life can still feel fun and valuable to me.  I don’t have that same confidence when it comes to living with chronic pain.

I would like to believe that it is simply mind over matter and that I could find joy, gratitude, and peace of mind in any physical state.  But I remember the pain I was in last week as I tried to get out of the car and walk down the sidewalk without collapsing and without crying.  And I still shiver as I think about those days before my surgery years ago, my body stuck in a wholly unnatural position due to the spasms from the herniated disc in my back and me barely able to breathe without sobbing uncontrollably.  That was not a life that could be maintained.  If it had value, I couldn’t see it at the time.

In the end, I guess my answer is YES, my life can still be quite valuable without all the things I love about being fit and active, but that value probably begins to deteriorate once chronic pain gets past moderate intensity, with the value then becoming inversely proportional to the pain as I move toward full-on agony.  It’s a theory for now.  I hope I don’t have to find out the truth.

How about you?  How does your health dictate the value of your life?  Open up your journal and your memory and search for times when your health shaped the way you value your life.  What are your very worst experiences with your health and physical abilities?  Are they illnesses that knocked you flat and made you feel like garbage?  Migraines?  Are your worst times from acute injuries that brought your pain immediately to an extreme intensity?  Do you have chronic pain at a high level that shapes your perception of your life’s value?  Whatever your worst experiences, did they ever reach a point where you began to wonder if you could go on much longer in that state?  Did you ever, at your very worst point, realize that it no longer even felt like living, but instead just endless suffering?  If so, how did that realization play on your psyche?  If you haven’t experienced this level of physical agony, do you know someone who has?  How closely do you believe you can empathize with it?  Who in your life has lived for long stretches in the greatest physical pain?  Was it from an illness—like cancer or arthritis—or from injury (e.g. spine trouble or concussion)?  Have they adapted and created a happy life in spite of the pain?  Do you think you could be happy no matter your level of chronic pain?  Do you believe there is a level of pain that would lead you to take your own life?  Do you have any judgment about people who do?  Okay, let’s switch gears.  How much does a diminished physical capacity affect your mindset?  Have you ever been incapacitated with an injury that limited you enough that it affected your happiness or life satisfaction?  What did it keep you from doing or feeling that you missed so much?  Did you find a substitute for that previous ability to fill in the happiness gap, or did you simply adjust your standards?  Was your loss temporary or permanent?  What can you no longer do that you once could (e.g run, play a sport, garden, etc.)?  How has that loss affected you?  Do you harp on it psychologically, reminding yourself how much you miss it and maybe cursing your luck?  Have you given yourself grace as you have aged, letting abilities go without too much bitterness or mourning?  Have you found that life can be just as good without the physical gifts of youth?  Can you think of a physical loss that would almost certainly cause you to devalue your life (e.g. paralysis, blindness, obesity)?  Is there a physical loss that you can imagine making life seem no longer worth living for you?  Are you at all embarrassed to admit to that last answer?  Are we weak and shallow for tying so much of our happiness and life satisfaction to our health—rather than, say, spiritual peace or wisdom–or is that just the reality of the human condition?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What good is your life without your health?

Be as well as you can,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community.  We rise together!

P.P.S.  If this way of self-exploration appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

How Will You Judge Your Life When You Turn 80?

DSC_0175“It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you know you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.” –Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

 Hello friend,

This weekend we are celebrating my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. Her big day was a few weeks ago, but you know, you gather when you can. I am a chronicler, of course, so I am inclined to get something in the books. And hey, 80 is big, so let’s mark it! To get her to talk about her past, however, much less to assess her life and open up about how she feels about it all, is like pulling teeth. When we record the kids singing her “Happy Birthday” (or celebrating other occasions), I often then aim the camera at her and ask her how she feels about turning 80 or if she has any thoughts about her life to this point, anything she would like to say to commemorate the occasion. “NO!”  Every darn time!

As a guy who assesses his life on a daily basis and enjoys sharing his thoughts about most anything–but particularly about the life I have been given—I have such a hard time understanding her guarded mentality. I will be that old guy who annoys every grandkid and nursing home assistant whose turn it is to humor me, talking their ear off about my memories and any nuggets of wisdom I may have gained along the way.

Still, thinking about my mother-in-law turning 80 has me in a pondering mood. And since she won’t let me in about how this late milestone is playing on her heart and mind, I have done a mental transfer instead. I started imagining about how I will feel turning 80, how I will assess my life up to that signature year.

I am more than halfway there already and have a lot of habits and tendencies that have made well-worn paths in my mind. How much can I expect to change about my essence between now and 80? Are the final chapters of my story already easy to read? Or, perhaps, have I just wiped the slate clean? Maybe I can surprise even myself. I hope to keep it interesting, of course, but I can probably make a few educated guesses based on the current course. After all, I have been studying this subject pretty closely for a few years now!

The part of my vision of myself at 80 that gives me the most comfort is that I believe I will still be extremely happy. I am on a run right now of a solid 19 years of deep happiness. Many circumstances have changed during that time—and I fully admit to being blessed with a healthy family and a life of good luck—but the one thing that has not been threatened is my happiness and gratitude for my life. I am planning for that to stick with me until the end of the ride.

I am also quite sure I will still be writing—a big part of what keeps me happy—still trying to understand myself and my relationship to the Universe a little better. I will still be in love with books and the life of the mind, striving to learn and grow every day. I want to think I will still be up for adventures and new experiences. I will be doing my best to leave a positive impression on the world. I know I will cherish whatever family moments I have, perhaps even with grandkids if I am so blessed. These are the things I am most sure about my 80-year-old self.

The one thing I wish I were more certain of at that age is my degree of contentment and satisfaction with myself and my journey. I would like some measure of peace about my run, some feeling of acceptance of the life I have been given and what I did with it. I know that at 43, I am extremely dissatisfied with my achievements and contributions to the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like who I am. I can acknowledge some good qualities in myself and appreciate the man I have become. But to pass the test—graded by myself, of course—I will need to DO more good and maximize the potential of my gifts, not just be a good guy on the inside. There is a big difference there.

I imagine myself being dragged kicking and screaming to my death, begging for more time to accomplish more, give more, learn more. I want to think that by age 80, I will have done most of the things I plan to do—like publish books and share the wonders of this great world with my kids—and will not be so desperate to finish the job, pleading for a bigger share of the pie, a few more hugs or walks on the beach or hours to create.

If I am to arrive at 80 with peace and acceptance, there is a lot of work to do! I will die doing my best. That much I know. Maybe that is all there is. I will try to make peace with the process, too, not just the end result. What a challenge!

I am grateful to be alive in this moment, grateful for my chance to live my purpose and know the wonderful joys of existence. I look into my daughter’s eyes as I write this to you and think, “Oh, how I would miss this! Thank God for this great chance called ‘my life’.” I will savor it now and for however many more tomorrows may come.

How about you? How do you think you will judge your life when you reach 80? Open up your journal and your imagination. How is 80-year-old you feeling about yourself? What do you believe are the biggest factors that will determine that feeling? Companionship? Close family relationships? Career success? Financial security? Health? Evidence of a lasting legacy? Faith/connection with the Divine? Belief that you have lived authentically and with integrity? Completing your bucket list items? When you get to age 80, how willing and eager will you be to share your story and the lessons that life has taught you? Compared to how you are now, how much do you think your personality and outlook will change by the time you hit 80? Will you be more or less content? More or less happy? More or less satisfied with the impact you have made? More or less optimistic for the future of the world? If you could jump ahead and ask your 80-year-old self anything, what would you ask? What advice do you think 80-year-old you would give you about your life right now? Are you taking that advice? When you picture yourself that many years down the road, how much ground do you have to make up between now and then to become as satisfied and at peace with your life as you would like to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How contented will you be with your existence at age 80?

 Eat the dessert,

William

P.S. If this letter was helpful to you, please pass it on. It is not too late for any of us to change for the better.

All In Your Head: Are You Young, Old, or a Little Bit of Both?

DSC_1239“Young. Old. Just words.” –George Burns

Hello friend,

Many years ago, before cancer consumed her body and took her away from me, my Grandma Jeanne told me that, in her mind, she still felt just like she did when she was a kid. Having been close to her since I was born and already a young adult when she told me this, I, of course, thought of her as old. How could she not feel old and slow and behind the times and everything else we associate with aging? The thought of her defying what I believed to be the natural laws really threw me. It seemed so audacious, especially coming from this sweet, soft-spoken angel of a woman. I adored her to no end, but hey, that didn’t stop me from thinking of her as old! But no, she insisted that, on the inside, she didn’t feel it.   Having not spent a lot of time with older people previously, I was shocked by this revelation. But even more than I was shocked, I was tickled.  It was marvelous to me! I loved the idea that aging didn’t have to mean certain decline and decay of all things. I was heartened by the thought that all of these old folks—the ranks of which now include my parents, with me not far behind—were, despite all appearances of slowing down and fading out, definitely alive and kicking in their emotional and spiritual lives.

I loved thinking of my Grandma as young and full of life, imagining how she played as a child and how she fell in love with my Grandpa at an age that I now think of as “still a kid.” Not long after this wonderful revelation, she received a little framed craft that said, “Grandmas are just antique little girls.” And that is how I have thought of her ever since. I cherish that thought more than I can explain.

As my Mom approached her 70th birthday last year, I did a sort of interview/life review with her. She echoed her mother’s thoughts. She said she still feels herself young and full of life. She actually acts that way, too. She is completely hands-on with all of her grandkids, and she thinks nothing of hopping in the car by herself and driving across three states to watch a recital or skating show, then turning around the next day and driving back home. She is a dynamo, so hearing that she still feels herself to be young is no surprise.

But what about everyone else? Are my Mom and Grandma Jeanne the exception, the two Peter Pans amidst a cohort of fossils and curmudgeons? I am asking for selfish reasons, of course. I want to know what to expect! Is my zest for adventure and growth and new knowledge going to wither with the years, as I always imagined to be happening to the old folks I knew? Or, will my characteristic joie de vivre keep my spirit free and fully engaged until my last days?

A couple of months ago, I went out to the street to “check on” my son and the neighbor kid, who were tossing a football around. Soon, there was a field drawn in sidewalk chalk and we were engrossed in a big game. Plays were being called, touchdown dances were being danced, and the trash talk was flying as only three kids under the age of 8 can bring it. I was in my element. The neighbor kid’s mom came out after a while and laughed, “You love this stuff, don’t you? You are just a big kid!” Guilty! I absolutely love that stuff!

For me, this is one of the greatest perks of parenthood: the opportunity to do “kid’s stuff” without reprisal. Nobody wants to go up and down that sledding hill more than I do! Snow forts and snowball fights? “Count me in!” Backflips on the trampoline and cartwheels in the yard? “Yes and yes.” Need an adult to ride with the little kids on the tube behind the boat? “Oh, gosh, I suppose I could.” I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to battle me on the tennis court and throw Frisbees across the yard. Just about the only thing on my Christmas List this year was a beginner snowboard that I could just step into and ride down the sledding hill (I have always wanted to learn). My Mom’s response after an exhaustive search: “They all say they are for people who weigh 95 pounds or less.” Argh! I have the same trouble with Slip-n-Slides. Such is the plight of the adult child. There are not enough people like me demanding such toys, apparently. Yes, when it comes to sports, games, and outdoor fun, it seems I just might hold onto my childish tastes. At least until my body tells me “no más!”

But what about emotionally and spiritually? What does that evolution look like? Currently in The Journal Project, I am reading from the years when I was in my mid-twenties. While wandering around Europe, when someone would ask me what I wanted to do with my life, I would boldly respond, ”I want to save the world!” and a lively discussion would ensue, full of my sweeping ideals and my deep self-confidence that I would be the one to do it. All these years later, I see that my idealism has tempered some, but not my eagerness to be a part of the solution.

I used to believe I would have as big of an impact as my heroes–Gandhi, Dr. King, and Henry Thoreau–had in their lives and beyond. With each year that passes without a notable impact, I feel my expectations lowering. Maybe this is my version of feeling old. Even still, the passion to help people live happier lives and to make the world a better place still rages in me, and my continued willingness to take new strides in that direction makes me feel like I will hold onto some youthful enthusiasm for a long time to come. I hope so.

So, how old do I feel? I am not sure. Intellectually, I still have the curiosity of a young child, and possibly more so. I will take that as a positive. Socially, I think in some ways I have gone inside my shell more as the years have passed, and that has probably aged me more than I would like to admit. Emotionally, although I am fairly immune to the up-and-down daily dramatics at this age—a sign of “maturity,” perhaps—I have definitely held on to my childhood capacity for eagerness and delight. I am still genuinely excited to be alive and am easily thrilled. Spiritually speaking, I guess I am not sure what is young and what is old anymore. I don’t know if kids actually feel a close connection with the Divine—I don’t recall feeling that way—as it is such a big and distant concept, difficult for them to pin down even if they feel it. I do know, however, that in those mid-twenties I mentioned earlier, I was on a spiritual rocket that had me feeling howl-at-the-moon rapture and pure Bliss regularly. My soul was on fire with it! Maybe we can call that youthful. As the years have passed, I have maintained a sense of wonder at the magnificence of this ride that we are on and the Divine force that gives it all Life, but my feeling is more one of settled gratitude and connection rather than the howling rapture that once had me. That was nice; this is nice. If this is what we come to call spiritually old, I am okay with that.

All told, I would say I have a lot of young in me, but definitely some old, too. I would like to keep my vim and vigor, my zest for life and eagerness to play, as well as my awe. And maybe I will even break out of my social shell one of these days, too, and speak with adults the way I do with kids. Will my grandkids one day make me something that says, “Grandpas are just antique little boys”? If the shoe fits…

How about you? How old do you feel? Open up your journal and dive deep into your heart and mind. What do you notice in there? At your core, do you feel the same way you always have? Is the child still in you? The young adult? What types of activities or thoughts bring out the kid in you? What gives you that same type of delight? What is your favorite thing to do? How old do you feel when you are doing that? What effect has your physical health had on how old you feel? Do limitations from weight, illness, injuries, or chronic pain affect the way you think of yourself? Can you separate your physical limitations from who you really are inside and still feel young in spite of them? How intellectually curious are you? Do you enjoy learning new skills or information? Does this make you feel younger? How about emotionally and spiritually? How enthusiastic are you in general? Are you more or less open-minded than before, and how does that play into how old you feel? Is there still awe and wonder in you? Do you think that you sometimes act and feel “old” because you think you are supposed to be getting old? What if we really weren’t supposed to be? What if we got to decide? What would you do differently? Can you do some of that today? Consider your role models: parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. How old do you think they felt? Is my Grandma Jeanne, the “antique little girl,” more the rule or the exception to the rule? Which are you going to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How old do you feel right now, and which direction do you plan to age from here?

 Bloom where you are planted,

William

P.S. I hope that you dove deep on this one, and I hope it helped you to see yourself more clearly. If it did, please share it with friends and have a discussion.

Are You Fine Wine or Rotten Grapes?

Ripples on Pelican 0330_3“There’s never a wish better than this: when you only got a hundred years to live.”                                  –John Ondrasik (“100 Years”) 

Hello friend,

I think I am about to start having a tough time with this aging thing.

I’m 41 years old. I’ll be honest: those first 40 were pretty easy on me, both physically and psychologically. I found a beautiful, much younger-looking wife and worked in a job that let me act young and fit. Sure, I had some bumps and hiccups along the way. I had back surgery at 31. I started going gray even before that (and that train isn’t one that just stops, friend!). I have the wrinkles of someone 10 years my senior. I admit to some vanity, so accepting these battle scars has taken some work. But I have done pretty well at swallowing those potentially bitter pills. So far, so good.

Helping my cause, I think, was waiting to have my kids until my mid-to-late 30s. I was able to carry off the “I must be young; I haven’t even had kids yet” trick in my mind, AND avoid the total sleep deprivation/obliteration that inevitably comes with new parenthood. But then, after they came, right up until around, say, TODAY, I was riding the “My kids are so little. OF COURSE I am still young!” Walking through the grocery store with my two darlings, people—especially older people–would give that wonderful, warm-hearted look of reminiscence that said, “Ahhh, so cute to see a Dad with his baby and toddler. What a wonderful time in the life of a young family!” I love that look! It is like a psychological air-brushing: instant age reduction! So I have been living and loving the delusion of early adulthood for a good while now.

Until today, that is. This morning I got a reality check in the form of a visit to the dentist for my daughter’s first fillings. The first thing they did was put her on a scale to check her weight. Fifty-eight pounds. Wait. WHAT?!?!? How did my toddler become 58 pounds and have two cavities? Too much candy, you say? Nope. Sadly, it turns out that my little baby somehow became a tall, thin kindergartener who reads—and eats candy, too, I admit–about as well as I do. GULP! Okay, now I have tasted the bitter pill. I am no longer young. I am feeling O.L.D.!!!

I am thinking of the previous phase as Early Adulthood, basically the 20s and 30s. In that phase, at least somebody thought I was young, even if it was just me. I had either no kids or young kids, and I could occasionally be thought of as still a young and somewhat attractive Tennis teacher to my adult clients. Now I am more in the category of weathered, veteran coach to those at my job. Outside of it, I am sliding quickly away from the “New Father” role and into “A Guy With Kids.” Physically, I am changing on the inside, too. Whereas I used to jump from one injury to the next as any active, athletic person does, now the injuries don’t go away. I have been nursing a bum foot for nearly a year. That is old person material!

Yes, as graceful and accepting as I seem to be handling the aging stuff so far, I am not so sure of myself for the next phase. As much as I hear parents talking about the elementary school years being this blissful oasis between the exhaustion of the diaper years and the turmoil of the teenage years, I am finding myself feeling very clingy to these early years. I LOVE being my kids’ best friend; that role feels right and comfortable. I know that those days are numbered, however, and that doesn’t feel so good to me. I don’t want to be outgrown.

In my work, too, the road ahead is beginning to look scary. Coaching tennis is not like coaching football, baseball, or basketball, where it is enough to be a good motivator and strategist. I am actually supposed to be good at playing, better than the people I am teaching. That is tougher to sustain as the injuries and years pile up and don’t retreat. It is a young person’s profession. And the longer I stay in it, the less appealing I become to a prospective employer in a different field should I decide to change careers. The squeeze is on. I am feeling the very real fear of becoming irrelevant, both in my own field and in all others. This Middle Age thing is not for sissies!

I quoted John Ondrasik’s (Five for Fighting) song “100 Years” at the top because that song always makes me think about the path of life and this train called TIME that never stops, no matter how much a guy like me begs it to. In the verse about this new phase I am entering (and fearing), he sings, “I’m 45 for a moment, The sea is high and I’m heading into a crisis, Chasing the years of my life.”

I don’t want to be that guy who resists the natural flow of the life cycle. I don’t want to be perpetually “chasing the years of my life.” I want to do just as my hero, Henry David Thoreau, suggests: “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” I guess the thing is just to embrace it. Embrace the moment—every moment—whatever it brings and whatever my role is. I want to enjoy all of the moments—indeed, even revel in them—until my last breath leaves me. I have done that so far, so I don’t know why I have this current anxiety about losing that ability to remain in the precious present. But there it is.

How about you? How are you aging? Open your journal and tell it your Truth. Have you moved gracefully from one era of your life to the next? Have you fought it kicking and screaming at any point? Did you ever have what you think of as a “mid-life crisis” or, as John Mayer says, a “quarter-life crisis”? Compare your present era to your known past and imagined future phases: Is this phase better or worse than the others? Are you looking forward to your next chapter, or dreading it? How accepting are you of your aging body? Write honestly to yourself, and then leave me a reply. I want to know: when it comes to aging, are you like fine wine or rotten grapes?

You are lovable in every moment,

William