The lights don’t have to dim on your life in middle age
Is the glass half full or half empty? The period of middle age in a person’s life is quite the inflection point. It’s a natural time to reflect back on the life you’ve lived so far. A time for introspection. Thinking about all you’ve done (and not yet gotten around to) is a normal tendency. That’s the half of the glass that’s been consumed already. It is also a time to look ahead and grapple with how you’d like to live the rest of your life. That’s the water that’s left in the glass. Can you make the back half of your existence equal or better to the first half? Do you have positive things to look forward to? Maybe you need to add some flavor to the water to liven it up?
Something happens to people in and around the age of 40. Time becomes far more precious and the filtering of people and activities becomes more acute. There’s less tolerance for noise and bullshit that isn’t compatible with your essence or way of living. Patience begins to wane in your 40’s. And that’s cool, because you’ve lived enough of life to know who and what you’re down with.
Taking Stock of your Life
Many people in their middle age recognize that time is not exactly on their side when it comes to fixing the things that might not be working in their life. There could be any number of aspects of life that one might be unfulfilled by. In no particular order, they might include:
- Home — being unable to live in the city or community that you had dreamed of. Maybe you didn’t get into the type of home you had hoped for. For others aspiring to, even buying a home may be too much of a stretch due to affordability constraints. And it may be too late to reasonably save up the down-payment and pay off a mortgage in a reasonable time frame. The status symbol of houses has clouded the reality that a home is for shelter first and foremost. A place to be warm, dry and safe from the outside world. Remember that, if you’re feeling down about the lack of pizzazz around the place you reside in.
- Family — it’s quite common for many relationships to have frayed or fizzled away at this point in life. Relations with siblings or relatives may be untenable. Many have drifted apart from specific family members, for good. Any nice memories of positive interactions with such people may be a distant memory at this point. Others might have experienced the grief of seeing loved ones like parents having passed away. Sadly, funerals for friends and family can begin to feel more commonplace. In the realm of friends, the test of time reveals those who are true friends worth devoting yourself to. At this point, you ought to know who you can count on and will be there during times of need. The users, fakes and disingenuous should have been weeded out by now. You have weeded them out already, right? If not, what are you waiting for?
- Relationships — the qualities or traits that brought us together with our closest loved one may have changed. Over time, it is not uncommon for the once-strong bonds and passion we had with partners or spouses to weaken, fade or even break. Things between couples can go stagnant or stale, if allowed to. In middle age, some people have to seriously contemplate the feasibility of being able to sustain a broken relationship, indefinitely. You may have changed in drastic ways and grown apart. It’s time for an honest assessment and conversation with each other, if things aren’t going well. Finding a new partner and starting all over again can be done. But it can also be a lot harder to find the wherewithal to begin dating and putting yourself out there etc.
- Health challenges — declining strength and stamina, both physically and mentally, can begin to pose a challenge. New aches, pains and headaches that were never an issue before, seem to come out of nowhere. Father time begins to tap us on the shoulder, reminding us of all the wear and tear our bodies have accumulated thus far in our journey. Some are dealing with long-standing ailments, while others are now beginning to be diagnosed with more serious health problems. One thing we notice without doubt is that our age begins to show. Gray hair, flabby body parts, memory loss etc. are obvious indicators. This is an important window of time to make the necessary lifestyle changes to be able to age gracefully in the years ahead.
- Career — most people dislike their jobs. You may find yourself in a job or field that you have lost (or never truly had) any genuine interest or passion for. You do your job because it pays the bills and is predictable. It might be steady and secure. And that gives you peace of mind. But at the same time you might be apathetic to the tasks and are just going through the motions. Maybe the boss and your colleagues generally suck. At best you might be tolerating them and at worst despising having to spend so much time around them. For others, maybe unjust workplace politics or nepotism posed a barrier to promotions and advancements. Anyone who has experienced this knows how much of a morale killer it is. Sadly, you might now be lacking the motivation or mental stamina to pursue another job or career. You may be feeling stuck.
- Finances — Over half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. That figure is similar in Canada, where I live. Financial wellness is a major factor in having a happy and healthy life. Money stress (i.e. debt) can and does wear away at people from the inside out. For a lot of people, a realization hits in middle age that the prospects for career advancement may be limited to none. At least if they stay put in their current role or workplace. A realization may emerge where you recognize that you’re on a financial treadmill or have hit a dead-end; working the way you have been and spending the way you have been. Making an honest assessment and taking the right steps is key to ensuring you get onto a stable financial footing. This is especially important as the thought of retiring eventually (hopefully) requires a solid plan. A clear plan is necessary to retire with some level of security to ensure you can live with dignity in old age.
Now for many people in their middle age, the above challenges might feel depressing and hopeless. Grappling with and accepting that certain goals and dreams will not realistically be attained can hit hard. This is especially so in the context of a world where there is extreme income/wealth inequality, a dire climate emergency and a population living much of it’s time in the online realm.
I, however, see an advantage to being in your middle age that can help chart a brighter second half of life. By now, you’ve had a lot of life experiences. A lot! You’ve met countless people, in so many different contexts. Think of all the social interactions and personalities you have navigated in all your decades on Earth. It’s likely you’ve worked at several workplaces with a variety of colleagues and bosses. As such, you probably have a keen sense of the type of people you like to be around and the type of work you enjoy. In your personal life, you concretely know in your heart the family and friends that have been a positive influence in your life. With this knowledge, you are in a good place to really know who to give your precious time and energy to. And perhaps more importantly, the people and places to avoid.
With your accumulated life experience, you have automatically acquired a certain wisdom. A wisdom that will serve you well into the coming decades, if you trust in it.
Keeping the Faith
That time stands still for no one is an eternal truth. As middle age people, we must accept this reality with grace. But we need not give up entirely on all of our hopes and dreams. There is no shame in accepting that certain visions may have to go unfulfilled. And that is OK! It isn’t a failure by any means. Instead, turn your focus and energy towards the things that you can still work towards.
No matter where we are, or how old we are, one thing that we can all do is maintain a growth mindset. Taking time each day to expand our knowledge base and diving into new areas of learning can be reinvigorating. It keeps things fresh and interesting. The key is to also follow-up on our new learnings, by taking actions that align with things we find engaging. Maybe it’s a new form of exercise for you or pursuing a new hobby.
Technology evolves over time. There are generations of it that define certain time periods. Like our lives, it gets stress-tested and adaptations are made to have it perform better. Glitches are identified and dealt with. The technology just gets better and better with the accumulation of knowledge. Similarly, we too can upgrade our lives on a continuous basis if we have the self-awareness to make the necessary changes. Just be wise enough to use your built-up knowledge to do the right things that will work for you.
There’s just one catch though: time is of the essence.