There comes a point where you realize you’re old; best not to deny it but instead embrace both the reality and the opportunities
Many driven and anxious people with highly ambitious and often unrealistic goals, constantly strive to be better and more successful than others. To me this is a classic sign of dysfunction in one’s personal life. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of competition, trying to outdo another person because that will make you feel better, more powerful, more dominant, more talented than others. Our society is littered with the lost hopes and dreams of average people trying to be or achieve something they could not, despite all the self-help quacks and gurus explaining how easy it is to attain your wildest dreams. Many factors other than sheer ambition and drive are involved in success: luck, fete, timing, geographic location, social class, level of education, genetics, and aptitude and talent.
Instead of pursuing fools’ endeavors, the saner, more civilized approach is to focus on what’s really important in life, such as constantly learning and being curious about every facet of this gift of life we possess; building stronger relationships, when possible, with friends and family; seeking a richer spiritual life and understanding of God’s plan in your life; and discovering the deeper mysteries of Nature. In other words, dwell on, seek, and discover what gives you peace of mind and contentment.
Some might say, that’s all well and good when you’re old, but when you’re young you need to let loose, compete, strive to be your best (whatever that is), make money and achieve material success. The thing is, while financial security is desirable, wealth is not. Wealth begets the need for more wealth, just as intense competition in all areas of life begets the need for more winning, succeeding, receiving accolades, acquiring power and other forms of personal aggrandizement. It never ends.
In the meantime, life is slipping away like a rip current dragging you out to sea, and before you know it, a vast, lonely and empty horizon spreads out as far as you can see as you try to fathom just what your life has really been about all along.
I guess maybe I was just born different because from the beginning of maturity at around age 12, I was not like my peers, and I sensed it. I was intensely sensitive to everything going on around me all during my school years. I worried, I obsessed about things that could or might happen, and I was quiet and introverted.
I was a mystery to others, as one of my high school acquaintances so accurately observed in our yearbook that year. The normal activities and preoccupations of adolescents completely bypassed me, and that was okay up to a point, but then I began to feel more and more friendless and desirous of escape from my surroundings and the city I grew up in.
Beginning a new life after college in another state was the best move I could have made back in 1973. All during my 20s, everything was new, exciting and challenging, including my jobs. The minimum wage was never higher than $2 an hour in the 70s. The average starting salary for a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 1973 was $10,500. My first job was at a non-profit organization, and I made $6,000 a year. When I entered newspaper work a few years later I was paid $8,000 a year, enough to cover my rent and utilities, with a just little bit left over. I knew then and ever after, that I wasn’t ever going to make much money. The work I did all my life never paid much, even considering the masters degrees I earned. The important thing was that I be proficient at what I did m, and that I helped others and my community through my work, whether it was as a newspaper reporter, teacher or in the field of information science where I spent the last two decades of my working life.
I never, ever thought about rising up some career ladder in a company or business, large or small. Early on, as so many young people were back then in the early 70s, I was idealistic, hungry for new experiences and eager to learn from my bosses and editors. No striving. No wanting more and more, just job and life fulfillment and making a difference in the lives of others in every work situation I found myself in. That is what ended up happening in the jobs that worked out for me. Not all of them did. I made some very bad decisions.
For years I lived basically paycheck to paycheck, but I loved my work in most of the situations I found myself in, and truly enjoyed the like-minded co-workers I was so compatible with, many becoming good friends, at work anyway. It never occurred to me I’d want to do anything differently.
That was then, this is now. I’m 72. I feel “old” for the first time in my life. If I’m lucky I may have eight or ten years left. Just writing this now blows my mind. It seems surreal, as if it’s just a little inside joke and I’m not really ever going to die.
There’s not nearly enough time to do all the things I’ve wanted to do since retiring six years ago. Not enough time to read the countless books I acquired in my library, many of which I feel I was destined to read, but where is the time now to even scratch the surface? I can’t stay in my apartment and read day and night. There are too many things to watch on YouTube, parks and gardens to take walks in and photograph the wonders of Nature. How will I possibly be able to write all I want to say, or become better and more creative at photography.
I want to go on doing indefinitely all the things I couldn’t do while working and caregiving for my mother. Time now feels speeded up. It’s accelerating because I’ve come to the realization that seven decades is a long time to have lived, and there’s not some endless future stretching out before me as when I was young and time was endless.
I’m now more interested in reading books about end-of-life issues in healthcare and preparing for possible infirmity, mental or physical. I was with my mother as her primary caregiver for the ten years she needed me at home. I did literally everything for her in the last few years of her life. I worked closely with Hospice for more than a year so I could keep her at home in her house, which she dearly loved. That ten years turned out to be more rewarding and life-affirming, despite the near despair and frequent mental anguish I suffered as I tried to comfort Mom in her much deeer anguish as she was losing herself gradually, but not completely. She had enough awareness to realize what was happening until the very end. She frequently would say to me, “I’m dying.” This was almost incomprehensible to me. I knew she was, but I could never acknowledge that to her. I couldn’t give in to some weakness and admit to myself that it was actually true.
Caregiving became my job , my actual workaday job became secondary. I experienced for the first time what true selflessness involved. I felt better about myself than I had in all the decades of my previous work and jobs.
So it’s both sad and almost laughable now, when in the twilight of my life, I look out at the rat race, the endless lines of cars stuck in traffic during commutes to and from work, and younger people no longer willing or interested in getting a well-rounded college education, but instead scared to death of not choosing the right major to equip them to get high paying jobs. The value of education has become greatly diminished. I’m forever grateful I came of age in a time when there was much more hope and idealism.
But now is a time of reckoning for past, current and future generations. So many of the plans and dreams of youth today have been blighted by preceding generations, which recklessly squandered Earth’s resources and set in full and unstoppable motion the looming climate disasters and social upheaval that is a direct result of human-caused global warming from the burning of fossil fuels for the last 150 years.
If I were many years younger then I am, I would be anxious and battling feelings of hopelessness, if I could even grasp the existential fact m, not just prediction, that human civilization is well on the way to extinction before the end of this century, which is only about 75 years away.
So this essay from the beginning to where I am now constitutes a way of grappling with the ever noticeable effects of aging, and confronting my own mortality, instead of seeing it day-by-day until the end in a loved one, my mother, who brought me into this world and who I saw depart from it.
These kinds of rumination are my daily companions now. Having no children or grandchildren, I have more time to dwell on this, to wonder when or if I myself will have to utilize Hospice and perhaps seek comfort from a death doula. To the young, we wrinkled, graying, and old people finishing out their days become invisible. Eyes are suddenly averted if they see us at all.
How will I use the precious gift of tomorrow, if it comes, and I continue to be mobile, alert and inquisitive, and feeling pretty good? I never relentlessly strived to be somebody who would be deemed “successful” by society’s standards. In my age, I don’t have regrets that I tried to be someone I wasn’t. But I can’t call it quits and just stare into some void waiting for the end. There’s still too much to learn, do and experience. That keeps me going. The past is finally beginning to make sense now, and the meaning and purpose of my life is clearer.
“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande
“They Good Night: Life and Medicine at the Eleventh Hour” by Sunita Puri
I will look up those books you suggest. I’ve been thinking along similar lines, being almost 69. Trying to figure out my next steps on a house I have, and realizing I have to take into consideration that, if I’m lucky, I’ll have 15 more years – and if I take after my Dad, 30.
I also think that the reason I adapted alarmingly well to retirement is that I never really considered my jobs to be my identity. I just never found a home in the avenues that the corporate world had open to me – and, to be honest, never aspired to the places the corporate world never open to me.
Anyway. much food for thought.
@onlysujema There seems to be an endless stream of thoughts and ruminating about life, past and future, at this age. Being retired, which was the best thing that ever happened to me, has finally afforded me the luxury of having time to tend to those most pressing matters and concerns that come towards the end of life. That includes not only strengthening and enhancing one’s spiritual life, and continuing to learn and be curious about everything, but also contemplating one’s own death and whether and how to manage the circumstances leading up to that. Hence my interest in those two books I recommended in the essay.
I’m glad I wrote the essay, though I struggled with it, and I’m glad it provided you some food for thought.
I am 54 and have started to feel old and invisible in the last year or so. I realize much of my life is behind me and try to focus on the good that is ahead. I do love spending time with my grandkids but they live so far away. Many days I’m not sure what to do with myself….I am restless. I don’t know how it just happened so fast. Yesterday I feel like I was young and raising my kids and now I turn around and they are all grown and living their own lives. Of course I know they love me and need me at times but still…
This was interesting and thought provoking. I am going to look into those two books. Will they depress me? I guess I’ll find out.
@happyathome Interesting that you say this considering you are “only” 54. To me that’s still young. Lol.
I wrote the entry, with more similar ones to come, because at my age, 72, the subjects of dying and death are often on my mind. This is not unusual for someone my age, but it’s anxiety provoking because there’s no way of knowing if I have a fair number of years left, or just a few. This one fact makes me try to do as much as I can in a given day that’s meaningful, and try to stick with that.
Also, when you get older, I know in my case the mere thought of being bored is impossible because I cram so much into each day and they fly by faster then ever since retiring from my last job of 22 years.
You have so much to be thankful for with children and grandchildren. So many of us don’t have that.
To combat boredom, I would suggest writing every day and finding new interests they are both fun and stimulating. I am in the process of embarking on two new hobbies, rock collecting and creating scrapbooks. Also, I starting to collect stamps again, something I haven’t done since high school.
@oswego I use to never get bored. I would read, write, make quilts, crochet, play my keyboard…lots of things. For some reason I lost interest in those things, except for reading. I want to get back to where I once was with all these hobbies to keep me busy.
I do realize I am still fairly young but then I look in the mirror and see the effects of time and my changing looks and that makes me feel old, you know? It just happens so fast.
I am very thankful for my children and grandchildren. We made some incredible people and I am so proud of them all.