You poor, middle-aged reader. Does anybody pay attention to you anymore? Are you just waiting to breathe easier once you hit retirement? After all, you’ve worked so long and hard for the retirement benefits at the end and you can’t go back and relive your twenties so here you are….middle aged.
“When I retire…” is an oft-thought phrase that excuses people from looking up from their cubicles as they refuse to “live in the now” (ugh) and accept that their lives are pretty great. Same goes with the phrase “when I was young” where our memories of ourselves are filtered representations of reality.
“Live in the now” is a pretty hot little phrase these days. The sisters to the phrase are “be present” and “enjoy these moments.” Hearing these phrases has been known to bring on symptoms of frequent eye-twitching and jaw tensing in people who aren’t already practicing yoga and saying “Namaste” without a shred of irony. By the way, you know who you should be saying Namaste to? People who actually use it as a greeting in their own language.
I don’t practice yoga. I’ve really only been to yoga when it involved a free beer. So I get a little tense when people, who seem to have far more time than me, are given to offering platitudes to help me “live my best life.” I’m living it already! Leave me alone!
Yet sometimes, like anyone, I stare into the abyss of a television screen and come out measuring myself as too old, too fat, and too tied down to be relevant anymore. I also recognize, when I am bogged down at work or wishing for a vacation, that I am a long way off of retirement. Longer still if you are a millennial and the authorities that be keep moving the finish line.
If we let it, mid-life can be a place of purgatory. We aren’t old enough to be free of work and we are too old to start something new. So how do we live a better life? A happier life? A more grateful existence? Without knowing what area you are struggling with specifically, let me offer two ways in which you can refocus your life.
Happier Life Advice #1: Live Like a Senior Citizen
Senior citizens have it made! They have loads of time, they have several living relatives to visit, they have an encyclopedia of stories, and they don’t seem so hung up on playing the “keeping up with the Joneses” game.
Still, have you ever come across an article titled, “Biggest Regrets”? There are quite a few articles out there with this title. The basic construct usually goes like this: publication interviews senior citizens to find out what we should all be doing before we meet our maker. The usual suspects on the regrets list are A.) Not traveling more B.) Not taking enough chances C.) Not taking care of our bodies D.) Worrying so much E.) Not spending more time with loved ones.
The “worrying so much” one is paradoxical to me.
I hate this construct. It assumes the American mentality that when we reach old age, we are done with life and our usefulness is relegated to words of encouragement to the younger generation. I was particularly perturbed by an article that interviewed 50-somethings exclusively. I mean, GEESH!
We need an article titled “What Personal Accomplishments and Habits Are Senior Citizens Most Proud Of?” I feel like this could be a paradigm shift. It would read as inspiration, and not as an apology.
I was perusing YouTube for inspiration and I did come across a video in which three centenarians were interviewed. These people are happy and they have (almost) no regrets. The title is misleading BTW.
Happier Life Advice #2: Live Like a High School or College Senior
At the high school I work at, the graduation of the seniors was bittersweet for all the right reasons. I will miss having them in class but I want them to go on and realize their dreams. Part of that is so I can live vicariously through those dreams and I run into them in the future and ask how they are doing, what they are studying, where they have been, and what they plan to do.
Sometimes I even get some inspiration that would fit into my own life. For example, a student of mine is going to study abroad. This is something I can save for. Sure, I won’t be taking a whole semester to study but I could find a trip to suit a personal goal like learning to mountain climb or understanding European history a little better. It’s worth the sweat equity to help fulfill a dream like that by paying cash.
My hope for my seniors is that they will experience a great many successes and when they experience the many failures life throws their way, they will be able to dust themselves off and tell their critics to stuff it. Many of these students will alter their course dramatically; arriving places they couldn’t see from their previously narrow perspectives on their own abilities.
Plan Your Goals as if You Are Twenty Two
For this activity, you may have to think like a college senior. Remember when you could go out all night? Remember when you have all these dreams that you couldn’t achieve because you were going out all night? Also, your paychecks were paltry, you had yet to figure out who you were, and people were pairing off or having adventures left and right and thus making you feel like you were missing out.
Why Middle Age is Awesome
Think of all the things we typically want in our younger years. What, in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s can you check off the list?
- Some travel
- A retirement account
- A paid-for car
- A paid-for house
- A stable job
If you can check off a handful of these items then you are WAY in the lead compared to your former self. These are HUGE goals for many 20-somethings and YOU HAVE ACHIEVED THEM!
Yes, there may be some things that you have to still check off and maybe something derailed your goals along the way (divorce, bankruptcy, job loss) but you are still ahead of where you began and you are smarter for it.
Now I’m going to give you a gift. I am going to give back your twenties but without the loss of anything you’ve already accomplished. OK! Great! Now what will you do? Whatever it is, let’s put “like I’m in my 20s” at the end of the action item. Your list might look something like my list:
- Travel more “like I’m in my 20s”
- Learn a foreign language “like I’m in my 20s”
- Learn a new skill “like I’m in my 20s”
- Have more sex “like I’m in my 20s”
- Find a project in and immerse myself “like I’m in my 20s”
Whatever you take on, remember to keep the list short (about three) until you feel like you are near mastery. For more on this, check out my post on goals called “Put Your Impulses in Your Childhood, Your Best Life is a Focused One.”
What We Can Learn From Those Who Have Left an Unfinished Life
Once the graduating class left the building, once the teachers packed up for the summer, once everyone was less than a week into summer break, tragedy struck our small community.
An incoming senior, whom faculty in our conjoined elementary and high school building knew as “talented,” “caring,” “bright,” and “inviting” died in a car accident on her way to help a friend who was responsible enough to ask for help. There was no earthly fault. Death had simply stolen a life.
At her funeral, we all mourned the loss of a kid we couldn’t help but like and be proud of. We admired this girl for so many reasons. She gave the people close to her reason to appreciate life and to be grateful for every day and every personal connection. In examining her life, many people came to the conclusion that they needed to live more like this happy seventeen-year-old. We would be “Livin4Liv.”
What to Do with Your In-Between Time
It’s up to you how you want to live your life. We can’t change our circumstances but we can alter our path and we can control how we react to disappointment. I can’t live for the future as if it’s an unavoidable train that is going to hit me head on. If you want to be closer to the image you have of your future self, you can make change today.
For example, I’ve often said when I retire I’m going to live in a country where I can practice and learn more Spanish. However, I can easily practice my Spanish at home and find communities in my city in which to practice. If I am looking for time in a Spanish-speaking country, I can work an extra job to save money to visit such a place for a week or two during the summer. We idolize the time retirees have so we put off what living we can do today.
Other Resources I’ve Used
If you still feel a little uninspired, you can use some of the videos listed here to help guide you.
Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning, offers up the four pillars to help you find meaning in life. Pay attention to the fourth pillar.
In the next video, by Dhar Mann, he points out that well-known people who are successful didn’t find their success until they were well past their 30s. It helps me believe that the best time to find success is after you’ve made time for yourself and your interests. Opportunity will strike.
This final video features many of my favorite people who talk about passion and living the good life. I know that passion is a fleeting thing and I know that hard work makes up the difference for one to be able to find success, but this video…man!