Boston Women’s Journal - June/July 2006
I recently watched the season’s penultimate episode of “The West Wing,” (yes I’m going to miss it), and Alan Alda’s character, an embattled but wise candidate, said after losing the presidential race and indicating to his incredulous staff that he wanted to run again, that “70 is the new 60.” His character was vigorous and in good health (we saw the check up to prove it) and thought that it was fine to start a whole new chapter in his life, one that would commit him to grueling hours and nonstop stress for the next ten years. Unthinkable? Maybe he was right. Maybe we need to rethink the concept of mid-life.
A woman born today can expect to reach an age of 80 years, entering the second half of her life at age 40. The life expectancy for a woman born in 1900, not so far in the past, was 50 years, so mid-life was 25. Are we even full grown adults in this day and age by then? I tell my kids not even to consider getting married until 30, as they aren’t settled enough in their careers and lives. I think if I was honest that is the code for “not really adults.” Remember when a career was started after high school, then college, and now graduate school? My how things have changed.
As I am defiantly, but reluctantly, in the camp of the middle aged. I look around and what do I see my peers doing? Well, some are considering retiring and making plans for elaborate trips postponed for decades, some are leaving long term relationships, others are looking for new careers, perhaps to “give back” some of what they have been lucky and wise enough to learn. Some are broke and looking at never being able to retire and trying to figure out what went wrong with the American dream of their parents’ era. None of them are content to think about sitting in the Norman Rockwellian porch swing and watching the neighbors go by. The neighbors are busy with their own lives and why would we care what they are doing? WE are too busy reinventing ourselves. Whatever we are doing I’m sure of one thing; we are going to be changing the paradigm for aging. Longer lives and more healthy years are making the old concept of the “Golden Years” playing with grandchildren and relaxing by a lake a non-starter. Also, the kids live a thousand miles away! A close friend just graduated law school at 56, another just became an EMT at 60, another left the business world to become a nurse at 54, and yet another three friends in their 50’s are studying to become religious leaders (of three different faiths). WOW!
Is it reasonable to expect like the character in “The West Wing” that we can start another race as soon as we finish the current one? Can we recommit ourselves to large new ventures at 70? 60? 50? What is the age limit on starting again? When I was in graduate school, getting my degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, there was an 82 year old nun taking the two year program. Some of my peers were rude enough to ask her, “Aren’t you taking a slot for someone who would work in the world for a much longer time than you?” Her reply was, “I think only God knows when he is done with me, and so far he hasn’t told me to stop.” At the time I thought “Good for you, you are unique.” Well sister move over, here we come. In droves. Why not, the worst that can ever happen is that we fail or die. Most of us have failed at least once and dying is inevitable.
The mid-life years are a good opportunity to assess who we are and where we are going. If we want to reinvent ourselves, let’s get to it. The kids are going, gone, or not going to be, and we are requiring and desiring different things. We need to take mental stock, and resolve those pesky issues of our past. A good step is to make sure our health is up to the challenge of several more decades of really living life. What once was a euphemism, MID-life, now may be a fact, MIDDLE of your life. I plan on another 50 years of active and rewarding time. Why not? But we do need to clean house. This is the time to check on your health and take care of small problems or large ones that may not go away, get your emotional and physical house in order, and prepare for an exciting new adventure. Isn’t it fun to think that we get a second chance to do the things that we once thought had passed us by? Let’s jump out of that box and surprise the younger generation with what we can do! Social activism anyone? Skydiving?
** Of course if I can help with the transitions either mentally or physically please give me a call and I’d be happy to speak with you.**