Growing Old

Every now and again, my wife likes to remind me about how she is so much younger than me. Two weeks younger in fact. It started when I hit 30 and she was still 29… she would have a little boast about how she was still in her twenties.

So you can imagine her delight when recently I turned 37 years old. What is the significance of turning 37? Well, in my country, Australia, 37 is the median age of the population.

All of a sudden… I am in the old half, and my wife is still in the young half… for two more weeks anyway. I am now older than 50% of of the people in my country. Or, to look at it another way, more than half of the people in my country have been born while I have been alive. How did this happen?

To make matters worse, the mathematicians among us would have calculated by now that being 37 means that I finished school around 20 years ago… almost to the day, actually. A few months back, I had the pleasure of attending my 20 year school reunion. Now, I can assure you when you arrive at this moment, and you will much more quickly than you think, it is a strange and surreal experience.

Imagine closing your eyes and being aware that your best friend from school is standing in front of you… you are aware that they are there… they are talking to you… their voice sounds the same, they have the same personality, the same sense of humor, the same mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. But then when you open your eyes, a fat, bald, middle-aged person is standing in front of you. That is what your 20 year high school reunion is like… and then you realize you’re looking into a mirror.

But seriously… crossing over to the “old side” got me reflecting on my life. The conclusions that I arrived at were both frightening and liberating.

I spent the first half of my life building for myself an identity that I believed would be palatable to the world and personally satisfying. I constructed a sense of self. I built my family, I built my (tiny) fortune, I built my career. I did all the things that I believed would make me fulfilled and happy, following the well-worn path of western individualism and the ‘self-made-man.’ Set before me were the milestones that were supposed to mark increasing degrees of satisfaction. When I was young, it was getting a license and car, getting good grades and having academic success. As I got older, it was about finding a good partner, settling down, having a family, buying a house. Then the focus shifted to career and climbing the ladder. Each milestone promised so much and as I ticked them off on the list in my mind, they did indeed bring me satisfaction… but only for a while. Then, I needed to move on to the “next thing” to keep from getting bored.

And now, here I am in the second half of my life, having achieved all the things that world promised would make me fulfilled and happy… financially secure, with beautiful family in a beautiful home… living the middle-class dream. I’ve had success. I have arrived. But I still have another half of my life left to live. So, what now? What’s next? I can’t shake the thought that there must be more than this… but what? Have I spent my life climbing the ladder only to reach the top and realize that it’s resting against the wrong wall?

It is a scary thought.

And so I have a choice today. I could keep on trying to climb the ladder… dye my graying hair, buy a sports car, find a mistress and cruise around like I am some kind of king. But if I do, I’ll end up looking like an old fool. So perhaps I could throw my hands up in despair and give up the climb and just accept where I am, slipping into mediocrity and maintenance… simply going through the motions, deadening and medicating the feeling I have, that this can’t be all there is. Eventually though, I would become a bitter and angry old man (and we all know them). Or, I could come down off the ladder. I have this nagging feeling that there is nothing meaningful at the top of the ladder that I can’t have at the bottom… down on the floor, playing with blocks with my children. Since I spent the first half of my life constructing my self, my meaning, my purpose… perhaps I will spend the second half deconstructing the very thing I dedicated 37 years of my life building. I think I need to pull it all apart and break it all down. What is real? What is true? What is it that really matters here?

I don’t know that answer yet, but hopefully, I have at least another 37 years to work it out. Yes! Growing old is really an invitation to discover what is truly important in life. I don’t know about you, but I’m grabbing that opportunity with both wrinkled hands!

A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.

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