I am rooted in reality. That is a double-edged sword.
There is a certain peace, security and self-confidence that comes with understanding and accepting how, where and why your life is anchored. Becoming rooted in who you are and are not, who you were and were not, what is and is not, what will and will not be, what is and is not possible, is empowering because it is no longer necessary to engage in the soul-searching, questioning and experimenting that characterizes our lives when we are in our 20’s, 30’s and, for some of us, even our 40’s.
By the time most of us achieve the milestone I did this past December, we have survived the traumas and confusion of young adulthood — the struggles of acquisition — and become rooted in a career, home, family, hobbies and all the other things that make us who we are.
I’ve meditated a lot upon that milestone, both as it approached and since. I’ve concluded that from those foundations or anchors of our lives spring the luxury of tinkering with the lives we have built in smaller but, for many of us, no less meaningful ways.
In other words, at this point, it’s “all in the details” because we are on a career path that has a particular trajectory, and we have established a home and are finished with moving from place to place, at least until the children are grown and we start thinking about scaling down into smaller homes with fewer responsibilities.
Now the focus has shifted from acquiring to maintaining and enjoying the things we worked so hard for. One of those things we took for granted when we were younger: Good health.So while the diets and work-out routines committed to in earlier years were fueled by the desire to improve our exterior appearance and, perhaps, attract a potential life partner, those endeavors have now turned inward.For me, at this point in my life, my weight loss goals are related not to the long-ago abandoned fantasy of being a “hottie” and are rooted purely in self-preservation and comfort. I set out to eliminate the health problems I was experiencing because I simply did not enjoy the way I felt. My problems were and are relatively minor in the overall scope of things, but were serious enough to impact my daily functioning and inspire me to take any steps necessary to feel better. My goal is akin to that of my peers: To stick around for a long time to enjoy my children and, hopefully, grandchildren. I am horrified by the number of folks my age who already have faced or are struggling with major health crises — or worse. All too often I read the local newspaper and discover the name of another classmate among the obituaries. I am determined to keep my name out of that section for as long as possible.Consider this claim by author Gail Sheehy: “A woman who reaches age 50 today – and remains free of cancer and heart disease – can expect to see her ninety-second birthday.” There’s an incentive to finish writing this post and then hop in the pool to swim a few laps.
That I look better is merely an incidental benefit because at this point in my life I know all too well that it just isn’t about appearances. The other night we were watching Ron “Tater Salad” White (one of our favorite comics) and found ourselves laughing hysterically when he did a bit about relationships. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), you can get the fat liposuctioned off your rear end or stomach, you can have your breasts moved back to their original location, you can get a new nose . . . but you can’t get rid of stupid. As funny as it is when he says “stooooooooooooopid” with that Texas twang, there is a fundamental wisdom underlying the joke. I commend White for acknowledging the attractiveness of being married to a woman in his own age range with whom he can have a meaningful conversation.
Sheehy told us in the 1970’s about the Passages that would mark our lives. Indeed, that book was so influential that reading it was itself a rite of passage. But in 1996, she published New Passages after her ongoing research revealed that “[p]eople are taking longer to grow up and much longer to die – thereby shifting forward all the stages of adulthood by up to 10 years.” So that means that 50 really is the new 40! Based upon my own observations and experiences, Sheehy correctly opines that “baby boomers in the Flourishing Forties [are] rejecting the whole notion of middle age.” Regret is a useless emotion because it has the power only to drain and depress you, but changes nothing.
She claims that fact leaves many of us feeling “lost” and that may be the case for some folks because of an actual or perceived failure to achieve goals established in younger days, ill health, an inability to keep pace with technology as it changes the workplace and job market . . . there could be myriad reasons. Shifting expectations can throw an individual off course for substantial periods of time or, sadly, forever.
And today professional success is measured as much by flexibility and adaptation to an ever-changing world marketplace as it is by skills acquired or knowledge gained — those attributes become obsolete virtually as soon as they are acquired. Those realities can be daunting.
I prefer to see the glass encompassing challenges as “half full,” however. Sure, there are aspects of my life that are over or lost forever and that sometimes makes me feel sad. I still feel a little twinge when I see a newborn baby . . . I remember how happy I was when I was pregnant with my kids, how I loved it when they kicked me (and they were both little mules so I got beat up regularly), and how I used to talk to them during those months when the two of us were in own little space that every woman who has ever been pregnant understands.
But I would feel a lot worse now if I had chosen to forego those experiences, as do several of my childless friends. I shake off that momentary “oh, maybe I should have had one more” feeling by reminding myself that pregnancy is not an end, but a beginning, and 18 years (at least) is a long, expensive, angst-ridden time to be responsible for another human being. I made choices and I live with them. Regret is a useless emotion because it has the power only to drain and depress you, but changes nothing.
Rather, I choose to focus upon what lies ahead. Having successfully argued a high-profile, precedential case before the California Supreme Court and performed at Carnegie Hall, I have now achieved two major life goals. I have had “mountaintop” experiences related to both my professional and personal endeavors. That prompted BigBob to ask me the other day, “What next?” He knows that I am goal-driven and always my happiest when I am striving to achieve something in particular.
Aside from my ongoing fitness and weight loss program, I haven’t yet formulated my next major goal. I’m still pondering what it will be, considering my options while continuing to bask for a little while longer in the satisfaction of having played extremely well at Carnegie Hall.
The beauty of that statement, of course, is the fact that I have options for which I am extremely grateful and am looking to the future. As I do so, I am firmly rooted in not just the past, but also what is realistic and achievable. Overall, this stage of my life is not a bad place to be.