Tuesday, August 26, 2014

5 Things They Don't Tell You About Getting Old

I still remember when my neighbour turned forty. I was in my mid-twenties then, and all I could think was 'Wow, Paul got old, man.' I felt bad for him. I still had my whole life in front of me, and his, well, his was winding down. I didn't tell him that. No use depressing the guy, but I felt like a fortieth birthday was probably closer to a funeral than a party, if only because you were so much closer to a funeral.

Well, a few weeks ago I turned forty-two. I'm an now officially "middle-aged." Amazingly, I'm not sad about it. Fact is, I'm happy to report that a lot of the stuff I was told about aging is a load of crap. In a good way. And so while I yet stave off death's calling, which, according to my young friends, should arrive any minute, here are a few things I'v learned along the way. My young friends, take heed. And to my fellow, err, mature adult friends, heyo!

5. Fitness is Ridiculously Important

Okay, so our society "pushes" fitness. In some sense, that's true. It's a billion dollar industry. They also do it while ramming a Big Mac down your throat and selling more processed and fatty foods than any civilization in history. There's a reason we're obese, why our cancer rates are so high, and why child obesity has never been higher. Thing is, when you get older, SO much of your life will revolve around your fitness level. If you have kids, it will be keeping up with them. Even if you don't have kids, it matters, because once you hit forty everything starts to fail, to slow down. Your body no longer repairs itself as it once did, and even if you try to get in shape, it's a hell of a lot more work.

When I was twenty-two, I could eat three Big Macs AND the styrofoam box (Yup. Past forty. Used to come in styrofoam.) and not gain a pound. These days, I can't even eat a Big Mac, let alone the cardboard. If you're young and reading this, get your butt in the gym as fast as you can. Develop the habit of being fit. All that stuff on your body that right now just stays in place, all perky and tight. Yeah, not so much when you get older. So before gravity hits, hit back. You're welcome.

4. You Never get Enough Sleep

Let me qualify this: we don't have any kids yet. Perhaps in the future, but I still don't get enough sleep. For my other friends who do have kids, however, they chase sleep like a cat chases a butterfly, trying to pounce on it as it flutters away, elusive as ever. The only people my age who get enough sleep, as far as I can tell, are the ones who like to get up early (which is okay, but please don't be so cheerful around me in the morning) and those with the discipline to hold tightly to their routines and be in bed early every night. (I hate you.)

I work with kids, and when adults express amazement over their energy, I just shake my head. Part of it is due to their youth. The other part? They sleep eleven freaking hours a night. You don't think we'd be more energetic if we got that much sleep?

3. There is No Such Thing as a 'Grown-Up'

The whole thing about being a 'Grown Up' is nothing more than a myth we tell kids so they'll leave us alone with the questions already. The term 'Grown Up' or 'Adult' implies a stage that we reach as we get older that comes with certain things, certain understandings. (Uh, nope. I bet you can name three people right now who are having the same conversation they had twenty years ago. Only difference is that they can enjoy an adult beverage legally while they do it.)

Once you start attending those meetings at work and talking to other so-called adults, you realize that everyone is winging it. On another level, you realize that most people are full of crap. People state "truths" without any kind of evidence and especially if you read a lot, realize that most "Grown Ups" have no idea what they're talking about. This is a good thing! It allows you to relax, to not worry so much about the blather of the so-called experts and figure it out for yourself. And as an added bonus, if you challenge ideas and traditions and do it well, people will start looking to you for answers. Just remember, we're all full of crap to some degree, so if that happens, try not to let it go to your head.

2. Nothing Will Go As Planned

I know a couple of people who seem like they scripted their life, but for the most part, you probably won't end up where you thought you'd be, whether its in your family or your career or whatever. Of course, some adults make themselves feel better by asserting that "everything happens for a reason" or "God wanted this to happen," but these are just mantras trying to make sense of life's random nature. They may not be wrong either, its just not something we can prove.

The only way around life's randomness is how you respond to it. In fact, how we deal with the tragedies and celebrations and other random oddities is the only true way to find contentment. Show me a person who can make the adjustment to not getting their dream job or dream partner and I'll show you someone with a chance at finding contentment.

1. It's Awesome!

That's right. Getting old(er) is fantastic! I trained a 72-year-old Danish man, and I remember him telling me, "Steve, it just gets better and better." At the time (this was about six years ago) I thought he was exaggerating. But I don't think so. Now, there are some caveats. I'm pretty fit, which helps, with no serious medical conditions. I'm happily married, which also helps. But if your life is in roughly good shape, hell yes, getting older is the best!

The frantic nature of your youth is gone. You've seen enough to not panic when something goes wrong. You stop caring about what people think quite so much. You stop worrying about hanging out with the cool kids and just hang out with the people you like. You're better able to manage your dreams and goals, put less pressure on yourself to create an amazing success story and can focus more on just being content. You have a cache of memories, some bad, but more good, and you get to dip into them whenever you want. Small moments have more power, because you realize that's where the good stuff is. The urge for "macro" gives way to "micro," and a dinner with friends means more than a gaudy promotion. 

Don't believe the hype about youth and all the ads that urge you to be "younger" by either getting surgery or going on this vacation or taking this pill. Nonsense. There's nothing wrong with being young, but nothing beats turning the calendar a few years ahead.