Damn it! They Were Right!
Updated: Jan 3
Reflections of a Mid-Life Crisis
Mid-2021, I read an intriguing book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing. You can see my initial thoughts in my 2021 blog, An Introvert's Guide to Aging Wisely. Over time, I've thought about my learnings from the book but recently I have been reflecting upon life and this damn book keeps resurfacing. One of the most prominent messages to survive and thrive in our senior years is to welcome the transition from our more physically-focused 20s and 30s to a wiser, more purposeful approach in our 50s and beyond.
Frankly, I'm finding whether I welcome the transition or not, it sure as hell has found me!
This deterioration seems inevitable, even if we think we are Zeus or are prepared to inject plastics into our bodies. Some may feel it coming in their 30s and others perhaps not until their 60s, but I've certainly been walloped in three separate ways:
Physical (dis)appearance: While I'm certainly no prima donna, I look back on old pictures from my 20s and think I looked okay. I thought I was husky but now 135 seems more like my blood pressure reading on a good day than anywhere near my current weight, and I had lots of fluffy dark hair back then. I've always ridden the weight roller coaster depending on my mood and determination, but the slope is upward climbing and lately, my fat clothes from my previous expansion are getting tight and I'm starting to worry. My hair seems dark and plentiful if I look in the mirror with the lights off, but a full 360 reveals my growing bald acreage in the back and suddenly those occasional grey wisps are taking over. When I go to the barber I wonder who was sitting in the chair before me because when I stand up all I see are the piles of grey hair on the floor, only to realize it's me! I think I should get a discount given the quick sessions I now have at the barber. However, that is probably more than countered by the increased cost my masseuse spends on oil to cover my rotund form, so I think I shan't complain. I'm also experiencing other phenomena I'd only seen in my parents and grandparents before me: sagging eyelids, random moles, tufts of ear and nose hairs, cracks in my thumbnails and thickening toe claws. I guess it is just nature's way of letting me down easy.
Skeletal remains: I should have seen this coming. My dad had nearly all his joints replaced in his last couple of decades. I had my left shoulder replaced in 2012 courtesy of a bicycle accident and then my left knee in January 2022 courtesy of arthritis. Both have healed nicely, though the latter has at this point left me with a slight limp and a Bic pen-like clicking when I walk. Thanks to the rising price of titanium, the left side of my body has been appraised for twice the value of my right side! Meanwhile, my heart appears in good shape though I added blood pressure meds and Xarelto blood thinners to my daily regimen. Thanks to aggressive multi-pack-a-day gum chewing, two of my molars are loose so I find myself actually paying attention to those damn tooth implant commercials.
Physical (in)capabilities: I've never considered myself the most physically active, let alone accomplished, person, yet I think my dad instilled in me a sense of duty and initiative that peaked with a couple of two-day 150+ mile bike rides in my mid-40s and several 5K runs culminating in a (barely) complete half marathon at nearly 50. However, my doctors highly encouraged the end of my biking after my shoulder accident and associated blood clots, wishing me to go slower and closer to the ground. Thus, I picked up the running but given my new knee condition, I'm now relegated to casual walks on the neighborhood trails. Soon I'll be crawling...can't get much slower and closer to the ground than that!
If all that sounds a bit sad, I suppose so. I'm a bit of a shadow of myself even 10 years ago (and that was a shadow of many others my age who ran circles around me for decades).
However, the saving grace is that the second part of the book's assertion has also been true, that added wisdom does seem to grace those that cross life's midpoint. Me, I've experienced this in three glorious ways:
Who's that in the mirror?: I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my past. I guess age, memories, parents passing, and the gift of time during retirement will do that. Who really takes the time to analyze life's twists and turns when we are younger anyway? So my 50s have thus far provided me with a bevy of learnings, much of which I eventually captured in my memoir, In Search of Courage: An Introvert's Story. If you are an introvert feeling alone (or an old college buddy or work associate of mine) you may appreciate the quick read, but otherwise, it was really written for me. I learned so much about myself, how I tick, and why I tick. It was such a therapeutic process that I highly recommend everyone, especially introverts, entertain, whether you ever intend to publish it or not.
Greater self-confidence: Like many introverts, I have suffered from low self-esteem all my life. Writing my memoir and learning about introversion and the strengths and talents I possess has sparked a resurgence of confidence. Some of that might go with aging. At some age, many of us probably just don't give a shit what others think. We begin to stand taller on the accomplishments we have wracked up and the wisdom we seem to suddenly possess. This comes in handy, if not annoying so, at least when helping our kids deal with career challenges, new relationships, and their search for self that we too struggled with a lifetime ago. Such wisdom has graced me with a bit of bravado in my 50s.
Purposeful approach: This journey of self-actualization (thanks Abraham Maslow) has left me not only content in my own expanding skin, but I have this draw to share. Yes, I enjoyed coaching my young workmates and I loved raising our three wonderful kids, but I've never really considered myself a teacher. Perhaps that term has scared me as it implies public speaking and engagement which this shy introvert has loathed for much of my life. But now I feel compelled to share my learnings. And since I've exhausted the ears of my wife and kids, I'm now turning to others to share the word about introversion. I truly feel I wasted much of my energies as a young adult on worry and self-abuse and so if I can help others abbreviate such lashings and find their true selves and magnificent talents sooner, what a glorious gift. I'm now wrapping up my third book aimed at helping families with Down syndrome find independence and self-sufficiency. I feel that our family's experience and my perspective may assist others to find the joy that we have navigated toward for decades. So it gives me purpose.
In a moment of personal weakness (or perhaps greatest strength), I joined Toastmasters last year to bolster my public speaking skills and help me on my purposeful journey. One of my fellow Toasters shared the phrase "Get out of my own way" recently and it is really sinking in. She is advocating recognizing our own anxieties and inhibitions but pushing those aside to achieve our own calling. I think that takes a journey of self-reflection, renewed confidence, perhaps some self-deprecating humor, and indeed a purpose worth fighting for, but now I believe I'm ready to get out of my own way! If you search, you may find me empowering college students to embrace their introversion and learn about their talents or me speaking to Down syndrome national conventions and local groups in 2023 to help them find the guidance and support they may so desperately need.
Perhaps we are all ready to make that mid-life crisis transition and change the world. What is your purpose? What will you do next?