So there’s something about turning fifty that’s decidedly…time-ticky.
When I turned forty, I performed some mental gymnastics to convince myself I was not yet near the midway point of my adult life (which I decided started at 20, just for the sake of keeping the math simple). Not that any of us know how long we’ll live (a key point). But if I have the incredible privilege to reach the average U.S. female life expectancy of 80 years, not only would that mean that at forty, I still had half of my life left to go, I also had two-thirds of adulthood remaining —well over half of my life as a fully formed, autonomous being out in the “real” world. With that encouraging thought in mind, I fairly whistled past that birthday.
Once again assuming I am among the very fortunate average, I am truly at the midpoint of my adult life. Thirty years behind me, thirty years ahead. And while I don’t want to tempt fate by saying this, I’m lucky enough to have two healthy, active parents currently blowing past their own life expectancies. So between genetics and the ongoing advancements in medicine, barring the unexpected or the unlucky (a high bar, true), it’s possible I could live quite a bit longer.
But as though on cue, signs of ageing are creeping in, reminding me of the physical challenges and limitations I will undoubtedly face as time marches on. These signs remind me that I need to start taking those steps toward optimal health that I’ve so far been avoiding, or one day soon, my body will call my bluff.
So, even using mental gymnastics — nay, parkour — I am faced with the fact that I’m at the midpoint. This raises the question, what does that mean, exactly?
Lately, circumstances have me reflecting on this question as it applies to the world of work. I have more than one friend turning fifty this year, retiring from long-held jobs after years of dedicated service. I am truly over the moon for them as they look forward to the next chapter of their lives with joy and optimism.
That is not my fate, however, since I’ve had multiple jobs in different places. I have either been working or in school since the age of 18, albeit with three six-month breaks for relocations. Theoretically, if the Universe were an employer similar to my friends’, I could have earned myself retirement with a pension by now.
Not that I’m looking to retire. In fact, I’m fortunate to have just started career number three, and I’m very excited about it— a new pursuit with new ways to contribute. But with some people my age being honorably released from their working lives, it’s nice to imagine that if I were to fill a duffel bag with what I’ve done up to now, and then drop that bag on the ground, it might make a satisfying “clunk”-ing noise.
Today, though, I find that I still want to fill more duffel bags. As much as ever, I’m bubbling with things I’d like to do professionally, inspiration for creative writing projects, and the deep desire to remain as connected as possible to family and friends. I also enter the second half of adulthood with some hard-won advantages. Number one: keener knowledge of myself and the world, with the accompanying valuable life experience. Number two: more confidence, so while I remain open and curious, I know my own mind. And number three: while I’ve always lived with a few chronic illnesses, at this stage, I’ve learned how to monitor, manage, and live with them in ways that minimize their impact.
My husband has an endless supply of great sayings and pithy quotes. One of my favorites is, “Keep going ’til you hear a crash.” I think I’m going to adopt this as my motto for the second half of adulthood. My inner drives and desires are definitely keeping me going, and “until you hear a crash” seems like as good a guideline as any for deciding when it’s time to stop.
Or at least slow down a bit. Which brings me to my growing suspicion that in spite of what physicists tell us, time doesn’t actually move at a steady rate. Rather, it accelerates the older we get, slowing down to the speed of molasses during moments of intense emotion. But that’s a discussion for another post. For now, I’ll just keep going — knock on wood, no crash in sight.