With the passing of another birthday last week, I officially reached middle age. That’s according to my nine-year old daughter who provided the specific definition for me: “Middle age is when you are halfway to 88.”
The definition makes as much sense as any other age-related matter. And I’m fine with the label.
That’s because, the older I get, the less important the number is and the more important the richness of the lessons I’ve learned.
I haven’t always felt this way.
I used to view age as something that came with benchmarks. For example, by the time I was 25 I should have a good paying job. By the time I was 30 I’d have written my first book. By the time I was 40, I’d have travelled the world.
The problem was, I never lived up to my own expectations. When I was 25, I had a job that provided wonderful opportunities to be creative, engaged in the community and work with interesting people but, the salary certainly wasn’t good. When I was 30, the only thing I was writing were papers for graduate school. When I turned 40, most of my travelling involved carting kids around from activity to activity.
The whole age thing just wasn’t working for me – at least the way I had mapped it out in my head.
I realized I was never going to be rich of famous. And I was most certainly never going to achieve my aspiration of aging so incredibly well that I would surprise everyone by evolving into a stunning beauty as I got older.
So I changed my philosophy. I decided that maybe growing older isn’t about aspiring to have an impressive resume, a substantial bank account or the most talented, well-rounded kids. I’ve decided maybe it’s about how well we adapt and grow based on lessons learned.
I’m not referring to the advice or platitudes that others feel obliged to pass on to us. I’m talking about the real lessons learned – the ones that result from both the missteps and the great successes, from the awkward moments as well as the triumphant ones and from the poor decisions and the lucky breaks.
These are the lessons we wish we could pass on to future generations, but we just can’t. Life lessons can’t be captured in a simple list of rules to live by. They reflect the unique path each of us has followed based on our flaws, strengths and desires. They reflect who we were and who we’ve become. And they reflect the beauty of aging.
So, now that I’ve reach that time in my life when I’m neither old nor young, I feel like I’m standing halfway up a mountain. I can look down and see an amazing view and the long, winding and sometimes very steep path I took to get here. And I can slow down a bit just to appreciate it. Then I can look up and see there’s still a path ahead of me, and I know the views are going to be even more spectacular. I also know that even though the path may be steeper, the climb is going to be a bit easier because I’ve got a guidebook of life lessons to help me. And, along the way, I know even more lessons are going to be added to it.
Based on that, I think I’m really going to like being middle-aged.