It’s a very good thing I happened to be seated when I caught the Medium.com story. Guy is leaning over his birthday cake with a big three-oh on the top, a rueful look on his face. OMG I am now so OLD, the photo implies. His gently receding hairline underscores this terrible, awful reality.
Among other things in the copy he discusses developing a greater level of maturity.
Implicit in this is that- and every single generation does it- being over thirty is just SO OVER THE HILL.
Holy shit. I would LOVE to have those 35 years back and complain about getting old. Oy.
The maturity that he alludes to, as well as his comments about professional athletes who mature into their skills a bit later after their bodies peak in their mid-twenties, is often found in much later decades as well. Part of that is because each of us ages differently. Each of us takes care of our bodies and brains differently. Some of us have the will, determination and dedication to put the time into extremely hard work, which tends to pay off over multiple decades. Especially if we’re not sitting fourteen hours a day in front of a computer, which is the bane of our times.
This reminds me a little of those People Magazine articles about folks who dumped half or more of their body weight. There they are in all their superb slimness. At least for now. Ladies and gentlemen, talk to us in two or three decades. Let’s see whatcha got then for hips and hubris. It’s nothing unless it lasts. And that’s the lesson of life- it’s what we earn and learn for the long term.
While I can appreciate being very young and assuming it will last forever until of course, well SHIT Sherlock, it doesn’t. I have come to appreciate vastly more that each successive day, month, or year provides untold opportunities for discovery and resetting boundaries. Redefining ourselves- and knowing how to do it- gets a lot easier as we age if for no other reason than that we’ve had to do it several times over. From losing a job to losing a marriage to losing a friend to starting a business to losing a home to going bankrupt to having kids to putting down a dog and a hundred other things that simply land on our laps, we get skills (or get bitter, you choose). We learn resiliency. We learn to bend instead of break. Or, we break.
For most of us this happens over time. Some folks have horrific accidents or diseases or suffer disasters young. They grow up awfully fast. Depending on how they respond, they learn to flex. Or, they break.
This young man in particular got married and had kids. So of course his twenties were full of change and development. Our twenties are typically a time when we practice taking crap jobs we don’t like, making claims for skills and knowledge we don’t have yet and we often begin families. It’s the beginning, but we haven’t arrived yet (we never do, but then that’s the whole point).
We desperately want to believe we have, though. With our twenties barely out of the rear view mirror- and many of us adamantly refusing to accept that extreme youth is indeed long gone- our thirties are the beginning of life practice. What amuses the hell out of me is a frequent claim to mastery, which at best we don’t even begin to gain until far later in life, and which, when loudly claimed, is proof that we don’t yet have it.
Back in the days of the New Age Movement I used to meet self-proclaimed gurus who channeled dolphins, who, of course, advised us to “love one another” (that will be $100 please, pass the basket). They claimed to be “enlightened.” Here’s an example of how enlightened some of those folks were: in Denver, a few of them rented space for a series of workshops. Then nobody showed up because they didn’t market the programs but simply had faith that the dolphins would deliver. Then they complained that they shouldn’t have to pay the rent because they didn’t make money. Enlightened. Yup. About as enlightened as a dim bulb, which many of them were. And let’s not even discuss the groups that had decided that they weren’t going to age any further. Um, that kinda didn’t work out too well.
There is an understandable desperation to believe that we’ve arrived now, and this is it, baby. Whether someone is 17 or 70, the ego really wants us to feel as though we’ve figured it all out. Millennials are hardly alone in wanting to believe that they’ve got life handled in their thirties. Every generation does it. It’s part of how we grow.
Or, we break.
As I am staring down the barrel at 66, I realize that true mastery is still way out of reach. The more I learn, the more I read, the more I realize how hopelessly uninformed and underdeveloped I am. Perhaps that’s the beginning of wisdom. I have no idea. What I do know is that I frankly don’t know shit. I recall writing four-page resumes back in my thirties that laid claim to vast ranges of skills and knowledge that I honestly believed I had at the time. These days that’s downright laughable (if for no other reason than as someone who has hired people, these resumes from people in early adulthood were a downright hoot). However without those mistakes and the faceplants that attended them, I wouldn’t have the sense of humor that has replaced my hubris. I would be deeply embarrassed today to put to paper the same pap that I penned thirty years ago. I must have amused the crap out of a great many hiring managers.
Such is perspective.
Maturity doesn’t come to us all. The body ages, but that’s no guarantee that anything else evolves. Age is just age. What we do with our time, which is in part what this young man was writing about, determines how that time tests us, develops us, and grows us into the adults we might become. I have met far too many folks who have plenty of age and not a whit of wisdom. By the same token I’ve met some young people who were wise beyond their years because of what life had thrown their way, and how they had chosen to handle it. Age had nothing to do with it.
The value I gained from this young man’s article was a reminder- although I pretty much live this way anyway- is that every single moment I have ahead of me is full of potential. If I wake up with my cup half empty, I can fill it today. That expands my world. If I wake up with a full cup, I’ve stopped learning, and I’ve started dying. At any age. My athletic potential, which I only really began to push in my late 50s, is still developing. I’m speeding up rather than slowing down. But as he points out, there are some different limitations that come with an aging body that force me to work out smart rather than screaming hard. I can do things today I could never have imagined at 20, 30, 40 or even 50. Part of that is pure technique.
That’s a bit like an aging quarterback who can feel, rather than see, a defensive tackle that is just about to bring him down, steps to his left at the last second and fires a bullet thirty yards downfield for a touchdown. That, you get with age and experience. Rookie QBs get slammed, they run too much, they think they’re the whole team. For an object lesson in this, see one- time Redskins QB Robert Griffin III. At 28 he claims he’s a “young, old man.” At one time, RGIII was the future of football. Then, he broke.
Now he’s a third stringer with the Ravens, jammed in between a 33-year-old and well-established Flacco and a newly aquired Heisman winner who has the charisma and potential that Griffin once did. Griffin isn’t likely to ever become a Manning or a Brady, still playing close to or more than forty, and with a SB ring on a finger, or several.
He’s still in his twenties. Deeply humbled by the injuries, the arguments with his coaches, his losses and steep tumble from King to third string, perhaps Griffin has learned a thing or two. Perhaps not. That’s not for me to say. But for all the kids who clung to his jerseys and hoped to be witness to a stellar career, that’s a lost dream.
I remember watching Michael Vick in his last college year. I was mesmerized and so very eager to see what he would do with all that talent. That’s another very sad story about youth and arrogance and stupidity and lost potential and horrifically bad (and for me, unforgivable) choices.
Age is just age. Time is just time. As Gandalf tells Frodo in Lord of the Rings,
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
Young or old, adolescent or aged, we all have the same amount of time each day. That is, for those who did indeed wake up this morning. And that’s the whole point. Because…
• 151,600 people die each day
• 6,316 people die each hour
• 105 people die each minute
• Nearly two people die each second
- 55.3 million people die each year
Those folks no longer have the choice. You and I do. So rather than bemoan the loss of youth, perhaps it makes more sense to celebrate the gift of time, fill it with as much life as possible, and be immensely glad we have it in the first place. It will pass soon enough, as Mr. OMG I’m Over Thirty will find out. He has the gift of 35 years I no longer can look forward to these days. I’ve traded that time for perspective, and with any luck or grace, with that has come the ability to make a few better choices.
Not always, when there’s a Dairy Queen on the way home from the gym, but some things never change from being a kid.