Most of us think we’re adults by the time we’re about 16-18 years old. We may be “legal” from about 18-21 but really and truly we’re still kids. This is only because schooling or early jobs have us confused about how the world really works. I’ve noted it before—I’ve asked people all over the world how old they were when they felt they were an adult and every single person told me either 26 or 27 years old. Because that’s when you first start to realize that your naive and youthful dreams weren’t taking all kinds of factors into account, like limited time or resources—with the biggest resources being time and money.
By the time you’re in your mid 30’s you’re either feeling lost or you think you’re really on your way. Maybe you thought you’d be married and have kids and yet you just got dumped, and you’re doing the math forward: if you’re single at 36 then it might take a year to find someone. You date for 37-38 and then maybe get engaged and you hope to be married before 40 so you can start a family. Or maybe you’re on a strong career track and you’re feeling confident about reaching your long term goals but you don’t have a meaningful relationship. So this can either be a very disconcerting and disappointing aspect of life, or you feel like you’re on top of the world and you’re not so far in debt that you can still have fun and see your friends a lot—and that’s fantastic.
Of course, at every age there is a decent percentage of people who are experiencing serious derailments of their plans. Maybe your marriage ended quickly and you never imagined yourself as divorced. Or maybe your children aren’t healthy, or you realize you’re not actually suited to your chosen career and you’re talking about having to entirely change tracks which is costly in both time and money. Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with something serious or you’ve lost important family members. Everyone has these phases in life. It’s only a matter of when they come.
By the time people reach their 40’s they have realized that the reason their parents lives looked like they did was largely because every kind of life will have shortages of something major. Money, time, or love. People will have abandoned their A-plan as naive, their B-plan as unsuccessful in some way shape or form, and so by mid-40’s you’re on your C, D, E or even F plan.
Maybe a weak marriage is starting to feel like a really bad decision you should have changed a decade ago. Or your health is out of control due to your diet or lack of exercise. Maybe an addiction is really starting to take a toll. Or maybe you’re not even sure of what you’re doing or why.
It’s very easy for this to be a crisis time where we can feel quite verklempt about where this is all going. Maybe parents are dead or dying or frail enough that we can see the writing on the wall. And that reminds us that we’re next in line. So we’d better get into gear and make something of this life. Strangely, it can be that sense of frustration of failed paths that make us want to make some more meaningful internal change to help insulate us from the vagaries of life. That’s why most of my readers are in their mid 30’s to mid 50’s. That’s crisis time.
After that I’m guessing, but I’m confident it’s a similar progression. Where we’ll have felt too old for life in our 50’s but 70 year-olds know we’re still young enough to have all kinds of fun they’ve had to surrender. You start reading the obituaries looking for friend’s parents, then the friends themselves. In the 60’s medical visits become more routine, and by the 70’s half your life is meeting friends at funerals and by your 80’s you just hope you have enough dough for a decent, safe place to live.
After that it’s gravy, but still it won’t seem like it because being that old is not for the faint of heart—pun intended. At 20 it hurt to lift heavy weights in gym. In your 80’s it hurts to lift your own weight off a toilet. But what’s nice about everything after the late 40’s is that you have enough life experience that you now know that everyone goes through these phases. That every single life is visited by terrible tragedy. And that everyone has their bad choices and misdirections and utter failures. We are all equal.
We come to know that the people we thought had truly made it had in fact paid big prices. Maybe your friend is a super famous scientist. But his marriage might suck. Or your friend’s a famous singer, but you know she still can’t have children. And of course in those highly public lives, pressure often leads to addictions and other unhealthy ego-based activities. So in a way, everyone faces serious losses in life. So what’s the point?
When you come to realize this wisdom is entirely up to you. Everyone has the potential to know it. The wisest among us learn it very young, but usually through hard experience. But life is an opportunity. Not to become someone relative to others. But to become yourself. To become the person who can realize the life that only you could. And how that life looks to others is irrelevant. The wise person isn’t trying to have an impressive life, they want an interesting one. Fun can be a big part of it if that’s the priority, but again the wise ones will know that there’s no avoiding the fact that every life has an underbelly. The only question is, when do you accept that and then focus your energies on what you can do?
Everyone’s performing patterns because we’re all much the same. The timing of our events might happen differently but by 50 most people are aware that there’s a few different streams through life, and we start to just accept that some people’s streams merge well with ours while others don’t and that’s no ones fault.
As you age you will surrender dreams for reality and then reality for choice. Regardless of age, true wisdom is when we accept the strange and unpredictable fates of life and rather than trying to control the wave, we focus on doing a good job of surfing whatever wave we’re given.
Go ahead. Make plans. Move “forward.” But when you don’t end up where you’re headed, don’t be surprised. Just use your new perspective to adjust your targets and get into motion again. Over time you will refine your path. Not so it will lead you to success, but so it will lead you to yourself. Because in the end the only thing you truly every enjoy or not-enjoy is yourself.
Do not judge your life. Just amalgamate your lessons into your choices and then proceed knowing that a re-adjustment of your direction is normal and that, in the end, you weren’t really going anywhere anyway, so you might as well just relax. And that is why this page is called what it’s called. 😉
Now go have yourself a relaxing, successful day.
peace and hugs s
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.