I met with a friend I’ve known over a quarter-century. Like everyone, we’re getting older. You can see the younger person you first met in them. You’re reminded of your aging too.
So I’ll share a few thoughts. If you’re a younger reader and this doesn’t resonate yet, one day it will.
First, aging has become my main source of learning acceptance and celebration — recalling my tenet that anything you can’t avoid you can learn to accept and anything you can accept you can celebrate. In this sense I value it because that lesson helps in many areas of life outside just aging and we all age equally, so you don’t feel bad for being singled out.
You can choose many things about your environment — where you live, where you work, whom you spend your time with, etc — but you don’t get to choose your age or your body. These are a couple of the parameters of life you have to work with. You can choose what they mean to you, which is big. Otherwise you have to make do with what your birth gave you.
Next, I came across an old saying that resonated with me:
Inside every old person is a young person asking “What the hell happened?”
Crazy how accurate that saying feels. I never decided to finish being a teenager, a guy in his twenties, or a guy in his thirties. I appreciate that I matured and continued to learn past what I knew as a kid, but I never felt done with those times.
Like I wrote in my first point, I know intellectually that’s how things work, but emotionally it never fully sinks in. In so many parts of life when I’ve found ways to do things better than the mainstream ways I’ve found ways to do so. With time and aging you don’t get alternatives.
Third comes the quote
Youth is wasted on the young.
So many things I did when younger and loved I could do so much better today but can’t. My body can’t do what it once did, the people I know aren’t that age any more either, and so on. For example, just as my body was giving out in its ability to play Ultimate Frisbee at a competitive level, I started to learn the importance of teamwork and the skills to put it into practice from business school.
How much better could I have played and how much more fun could I have had playing had I gotten this earlier! You know what I’m talking about.
It’s too painful to think of how much better I could have handled all those relationships with important people once in my life but no longer. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about — how plainly you see now how you could have handled things then had you known what you know now. And now that person is irrevocably out of your life.
How painful the irony that you became a better person in losing what made you better, so now you have to live without what you finally earned, all the more painful the more intimate that relationship. Almost makes you cringe, doesn’t it, at the thought of those lost past intimate relationships?
It feels gratifying to know that as we get to old for one set of joys and rewards, we discover a new set of joys and rewards of a later age. I don’t feel the joy running around playing tag that I did when I was a kid and even if I did, my peers are all too old to enjoy it, but I get to enjoy the wisdom of maturity and all the joys and rewards that come with it. Except that just as I reach the peak of any age’s set of skills, the body’s support for those things begins to crumble. When I was younger that meant no longer being able to play games or sports, for example. When the great joy of an age is in mental capacities it’s scary to think how those faculties will start to fade. Somehow losing the ability to ski like I once could doesn’t seem as mortally final as losing the ability to think and feel as I now can.
The inevitability and universality of aging is perhaps its saving grace. That we all face it humanizes and equalizes it. We love, hate, and feel everything else about it, but we know we all do, so we trudge along, not that we could do any different, but that leads us to learn and grow. Does it feel better when thinking about your lost relationships that everyone else shares the same loss? Or that the loss of the mortal faculties you now value most is already happening? Somehow it does to me. And to know that the existence of people older than you who create happiness for themselves means new things will keep arriving.
I could go on, but I’ll curtail my ramblings for now. I’m sure I’ll indulge in following up on this topic over the years.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees