Going Middle Ages

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My friend Jenny recently wrote a really interesting blog post about becoming middle-aged.

It seems that reaching middle-age has been something that she’s been looking forward to for a long long time.

When I was younger I certainly didn’t look forward to becoming middle-aged.  It seemed pretty uncool.

But having arrived here, I must say the water is nice.

And I particularly agree with the point that Jenny makes about having imagined these being the “years of settling into whatever it was that I was going to do and actually doing it rather than preparing for it and wondering if it was possible.”

Being 40 does kind of feel like that. Less anticipation, more execution.

I’m practicing the profession that I spent so long trying to learn. My family is fully formed, and in the process of maturing. And personal changes now feel more like tidying up, rather than like big transformative steps.

This past year has been a year of tremendous change. And Most of it has been positive.

It started with booking a trip to Japan that was far too expensive. My discomfort with the cost allowed me to crack open the doors to the fascinating (and lucrative) world of travel hacking.

Which, in turn, allowed me to see, for the first time, how much fun getting organized could be.

I shockingly found myself enjoying paying my bills, getting ever more involved in my own finances, and eventually shifting my lifestyle away from one of ever-expanding empty consumption and towards one of sustainability and investment.

And the fact that my habits were changing, and for the better, allowed me to understand, for the first time, that positive change was in fact possible, as long as it conformed to some real value that I honestly held deep inside.

Which made me think about changing my diet and trying to get a bit more healthy. And the VB6 experiment has been going great. I’m eating well and losing weight and still enjoying great food. And It seems not so much a diet as a lifestyle change. And a welcome one at that.

And it occurred to me the other day that it might not be mere coincidence that all of this change started to happen right around age 40.

Like a bolt of lightning it struck. The realization: “Am I in the midst of a midlife crisis?”

This was certainly not the midlife crisis that I had always imagined.

In my minds eye whenever I had thought “midlife crisis,” I had always pictured my childhood friend Robert’s father George, who was a very successful accountant.

Right around age 40 he traded in his maroon Volvo for cherry red Saab 900 convertible.

And he started rollerblading.

He could be found on Friday nights rollerblading around San Francisco with a group of 30-year-old professionals who would pack together and take over streets and block traffic.

And he would wear this sweatband. And these short shorts. And this parachute-ee athletic top.

And he looked like he was having the time of his life.

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Middle Aged Man in Jiangxu

Which I think was a very recognizable form of midlife crisis: The middle-aged guy who realizes he’s not going to live forever, and that he can’t take his money with him to the grave. He’s got some extra scratch lying around, and he’s not entirely happy with his life, so he starts to placate his inner child with some party favors (new cars, new hobbies, sometimes even new women.)

Clearly my midlife crisis doesn’t look very much like that at all.

My clothes are probably A little bit rattier than they were last year.

The only car I covet now is a bicycle.  (Not unlike George’s rollerblades?)

And most of my fantasies involve less consumption, not more.

But it does feel like I am placating my inner child.

My happiness has never really come from consumption, and in fact consuming has always felt a bit uncomfortable to me.

So cutting back and saving does not so much feel like a chore. It feels like I’m finally able to do what I had always secretly wanted to do.

And just like George rollerblading down Geary Avenue with a bunch of youngsters, I am wildly pursuing the promise of freedom, and elusive visions of an unconventional life well lived.

I’m not sure that I have a guttural sense of my own mortality just yet, but let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger.

So all in all it makes sense that one’s middle ages would be a time of change. A time of turning away from aspirational visions of oneself, and towards a more realistic and accepting vision of a flawed self.

How old was Shakespeare when he wrote “This above all: to thine own self be true?”

By my calculation he was 37 years old when he published Hamlet.

And adjusting for the life expectancies the the 16th-century, could anyone argue that he was not middle-aged when he penned this essential truth?

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