Kate, my colleague down the hall, got me thinking about age with her recent blog post, 30 is Not the New 20.
Hitting 50 this year was not supposed to be a big deal. Birthdays have not been a big deal since my 29th, when I realized, oh boy, I am going to be 30 in a year. Fifty has been a little different. It felt like it was time for a big number birthday. The body is slowing down some, and I do talk about my health more (I remember wondering when I was younger, “Why do old people talk about their health so much?”). Yet, on the positive side, finances are more stable than ever; relationships with friends, family and others are about the best they have ever been – after deleting some poor relationships and focusing on the better ones. Career choice – which didn’t happen until I was 40 – is where I want it; and even the job within the career is going pretty well.
Getting to this point was not a matter of hitting a certain age, however. As Kate states in her blog post, acting intentionally as opposed to procrastinating has a lot to do with it. I am one of those people of whom others will say at times, “You think too much”. Perhaps they are trying to imply that I don’t act enough, which can be true of me, too.
Procrastination is not a good thing. Yet, what gets labeled as procrastination is often something else. At times, we will be mulling things over or determining our best course of action; other times we may be recovering or recuperating from other activities and life events. It is important to pay attention to the “Why” when we are not acting towards certain goals. For me, I often need to check in with myself to see if a lack of goal-directed behavior is procrastination – or something else.
Age brings more experience simply because we have been around longer. Whether we have been world travelers or never left the hometown where we were born, we end up having more knowledge of our world where we have lived. In trying to figure out this middle-age thing, I went back to my graduate text (Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 2001). It appears age is not the best indicator of where people will be at this time in their lives. Rather, it is the experiences they have and when they have them that plays a larger role.
For example, not having chosen my career until I was 40 has had an impact on other decisions and choices, even to this day. Yet, in the past, if I worried too much about thinking too much and acting too little, there are some benefits that I see today – including that my thoughts help me in my work with others when they are stuck in their lives. Time and age bring different perspectives.
It can be easier to let go of interests, desires and goals that no longer fit. This is not a giving up, but a refocusing towards those things that give satisfaction. Another nugget from my old textbook is that some cognitive processes peak in our 50s and cognitive decline doesn’t really begin until after 60. Middle age is the time when we are in a position to go after what we want. Our thoughts and experiences can be great guides to taking action.
Part of middle-age happiness is going to be based on how well we have done in attaining our interests and goals from earlier in life. A larger part of our happiness is dependent on how well we do in reaching for the updated desires and goals (version 5.0?) we set for ourselves today.
Reggie E, MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career in social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.