Youth, Aging and the Comfort of Your Own Skin

2016-12-29 17.29.01

One of my favorite things at work these days is the fact that my company is in a strong hiring mode.  Times like this put me in a good mood because they’re about growth, something I always feel hugely positive about, whether personal, professional or in the business sense.  Being stagnant tends to make me feel itchy… I mean, not like literally.  I don’t get hives from it and need a soothing balm.  And yes, I went with that entire analogy just for the sake of using the word “balm” since it’s soothing on its own just to say it.

What’s been great about this hiring push is that it’s brought in so many new employees just out of college, which is a big change for how we do business (at least in many parts of our company – our engineering group regularly hires right out of college).  In my row at work there are 4 colleagues where the senior-most of them is maybe 3 or 4 years removed from college.  Honestly, it’s great because they bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and really challenge a lot of our company’s commonly-held thinking on issues.  We need all of that.

The gym I train at, when not at Fierce & Mighty, is also on the much younger side too.  Nothing quite like talking to a few of them and realizing: a) they are literally half my age; and b) one that is a Cowboys fan has no idea what it’s like for our beloved team to be… well… GOOD.

Being surrounded with people much younger than me does make me reflect a lot on my own life, where I have arrived at age 44 and what lies ahead.  Our culture definitely celebrates youth in a big way… and why the heck not?  There’s such energy and vibrancy in every younger generation that comes along.

But for me?  If I was somehow afforded the chance to become 25 again via means mystical or otherwise, I would never take it.  Ever.

For all of the things that are a downside of aging (such as the amount of mobility drills I need to do every day to battle against being in deskbound jobs for 20 years), I am such a stickler for the benefits of perspective I’ve gained, I cannot imagine ever relinquishing that for anything.

I cannot imagine giving up the level of comfort I currently enjoy about being me and living in this skin of mine, which may involve me lifting in a bright pink shirt all alone in my basement.

I cherish the things I’ve learned (which I hesitate to call “wisdom” since I am not one to pat myself on the back with such a weighty notion) that allow me to value what is truly important in my own life versus what is not, while constantly trying to give more time to the good and less time to the useless.

I enjoy a level of personal freedom to be myself, say what I think, know when to relent and know when to dig in and fight like hell that I never had 20 years ago.

Giving up those things for the sake of springier knees and a full head of hair is not a trade I would ever make.

(Although springy knees are something that should never be underestimated.  Ever.  Cherish those suckers.  HARD.)

We should continue to celebrate youth with the fresh perspectives, ideas, energy and general change-the-world positivity that accompanies each generation on the cusp of its stepping to the forefront of the culture.

Roger Daltry can sing about hoping to die before he gets old… and we can endlessly debate about what age that constitutes…but I refuse to take the value of the years and diminish them like some kind of trash or some inevitable decline in life.

I am still in the process of getting a little better than I was yesterday…and I don’t see a cap on that any time soon.  The only thing that makes you old, in my mind, is when you decide growth is over… and that’s not an inevitable consequence.  That’s a decision.

I’ve decided to keep going.

The Myth of the Mid-Life Crisis

The idea of a “mid-life crisis” seems to be this generic catch-all to explain any activity undertaken by a 40-55 year old that appears to be driven by a misguided intent to make up for lost time or recapture a fleeting bit of youth before it slips through the fingers like grains of sand.  In an interesting twist, almost every case I can think of someone saying a person is going through a mid-life crisis is describing a man – no idea why that is, but it just popped into my mind.  A person in the aforementioned age range can do a variety of things that will call up the mid-life crisis moniker:

  • Buy a sports car, motorcycle or any other propelled sort of toy
  • Does something different with their appearance (colors hair, grows a goatee, gets a tattoo for the first time, etc.)
  • Takes up some new sort of hobby that comes from seemingly out of nowhere

There are certainly more, but these are some of the more obvious.

And the label of this mid-life crisis always comes from someone looking on with a disapproving shake of their head and an exasperated comment of, “Well, there it is… Bill is going through a mid-life crisis.  Does he realize how ridiculous he is acting?”

Except here’s the problem with all of the above:

I think 99.99% of it is pure, 100% unadulterated crap.  Truly.

I got thinking about this the other day as I inch ever-closer to my latest milestone birthday of 40 (coming up in November, so plenty of time for y’all to get your shopping in now… I like gadgets, golf, reading and anything involving lifting heavy stuff repeatedly).  I am planning on doing some kind of trip with any family and friends who would like to come along, not as much as a celebration of “LOOK AT SUPER COOL 40 YEAR OLD ME!  BOOM!” and more just a nice chance to spend time with those closest to me.  But in all of this thinking, I also know I have been reevaluating things in my own life and what I would like to do these next few years.

Now, I don’t plan on buying a Corvette, getting blonde hair implants and moving to LA to finally live out a dream of acting… but what occurred to me about the typical idea of a mid-life crisis is that while people may make some big changes in that 40-55 year old age range, it has a ton more to do with the perspective and (hopefully) wisdom you gain with time and less to do with chasing lost youth.

Are there people who probably meet the criteria of a stereotypical mid-life crisis?  Of course there are.

But for the most part?  I seriously doubt it.

So a 50 year old guy buys a Porsche and it’s the first time in his life he has had a snazzy car.  Maybe he has realized that he has spent a lifetime scrimping and saving and having his nose to the grindstone and finally found a way to just have some fun.

The 45 year old lawyer who decides to get a tattoo for the first time?  Maybe he is just comfortable enough in his own skin to do something different and has finally hit that point in life where the tsk-tsking opinions of others don’t mean doodly-squat.

Heck, my deciding to grow a beard these last 10 days has been nothing more than a “Why don’t I try it?” kind of thing and not a desperate attempt to be different for the sake of being different.  And let’s face facts – I am one handsome SOB.  Take your time to appreciate this for a few minutes before reading on.  I can wait… it will be well-worth your time.

Photo on 7-9-12 at 7.38 AM

Me in all my handsome, shaggy glory.

The best thing about getting older is the perspective you gain on life and the increasingly clear realization that it is your life, only your life and if you live it solely based on the expectations of others as opposed to being true to thine own self, you will end up bitterly disappointed.

And that’s my view as a guy just south of the big 4-0: Put yourself out there.  Try stuff.  VERY few mistakes are fatal and many can be kind of fun.  You have to answer to only yourself at the end of the day (or your deity of choice if you are a believer).

I am still way less-than-perfect at this kind of thing, but damn… I am trying hard.

The final piece of advice: Don’t go and do anything or buy anything just because you feel it will make you cooler, hipper or anything along those silly lines.  But if it’s something important to you?  Or even just something that would be interesting to give a run?  Godspeed.  We are each figuring this out as we go and it’s that process that means the most in the end.

The Aging Athlete and Fighting the Inevitable

Last night was the third game of the basketball league I just got involved in after not playing at all for several years.  While I have been in some of the best shape of my life of late… well… let’s just say my hoop skills are not what they once were.  I mean, not even within the same ZIP code.  It’s not that I was amazing at any time in my life, but I was a solid outside shooter, played good defense and could push the ball decently well on a fast break.

Now? Hoo boy.  It’s not just the skills being rusty, but the lack of confidence in not playing in such a long time.  Well, that and the fact that I really don’t want to put my team in a bad spot… which probably just makes me more tentative. Kind of a vicious cycle.2009_10_cleats

After I subbed out with a few minutes left to play and watched the rest of the game  from the sidelines, I had a strange moment of reflection.  I had to make a choice: (a) work harder on my game; (b) accept the state of my game as it is; or (c) or hang up the sneakers entirely.

I had a moment like this playing soccer this past Fall.  I found myself not keeping up with the forwards I had to cover or getting winded too easily.  I am someone who has a lot of athletic pride, so the notion of just accepting things as they were was simply untenable to me… at least in soccer.  Also, I really was not ready to go gentle into that good night by playing in a less competitive league… so the decision there was to get myself in better shape or stop all together.  I went with a personal ass-kicking and the results (at least for the indoor soccer I have been playing) have been great.

But these moments I experienced are likely not going to be passing things.  At the delightful age of 37, they will only return and likely with shorter and shorter intervals between them.  While I certainly do not feel like I am 37 in terms of my outlook or how I feel, I know that there is a certain inevitably that comes with the wisdom of years.

Part of this is a matter of life getting in the way.  We get older and have more job and family responsibilities… we get a little bit more sedentary… play our sports just a little bit less… and then the years slip by and you end up standing on the sidelines of your rec basketball league wondering what in the name of all that’s holy happened to your jump shot.

In fact, I am stubborn about the notion that the problem with aging and athletics is really a lot less about the physical changes from time and more about the reduction in total activity.  Of course, it’s totally possible I view it this way because this is a philosophy whereby renewed effort should be able to return some of the sparkle of former glory… and I want my sparkle back.

So for the foreseeable future, I will not go gentle into that good night and will rage, rage against the dying of the light.  I have no reason to give up… no reason to quit… and truth be told, few things stir my blood like a good challenge.

And this challenge?  Oh this challenge is a good one for me.

And this will be my anthem:

Everybody gets knocked down. How quick are you gonna get up?

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