The other day, a good friend of mine shared that he had some thoughts about mortality during his morning run. He ended up turning it around into a productive thought process about how he could preserve his legacy for the future. As we had lunch and chatted about his thoughts, it reminded me how similar humans can be with one another when it comes to certain phases in life.
My friend and I are both in our 40s, and with that, seems to come musings on middle age. I know for myself that I have thought about where I am at in my life, and how much of my life has already passed me by. I’ve lived in my current house for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. I’ve been in the information technology field for almost two decades. I have multiple degrees, two kids, divorced, and re-married. So much has happened over the past four decades that when I think about it, it can be somewhat overwhelming.
It also makes a person think about what is to come, namely growing older and eventually leaving this world. It gets harder and harder to look at the future as a vast, wide open sea of opportunity that never ends. When you’re in your twenties, it is so easy to get wrapped up in your own sense of invincibility. You feel like life will go on forever, and every year brings new and exciting changes to your world. Even in your thirties the tendency is to still feel like there is more of your life ahead of you than behind. Thinking about the future is more about building a stable home for your family, and being a good steward of the resources you work hard to achieve.
Mid-life, in your forties, is tough. One day you wake up and you realize that the number of days you have left, may be approaching less than the days that have passed. Despite the, very factual knowledge, that the first forty years took… literally 40 LONG years, you sometimes can’t shake certain thoughts. Thoughts about how you want to spend those final decades, and how people will remember you once you’re done. ‘Legacy’ is a word that starts drilling into the heart of many middle-aged men.
Some people approach the idea of legacy with little regard, content and happy with whatever will come to pass. Many others are crippled by it, obsessed with what they can do in their second-half of life to cement their story in the world. And some simply want to erase all the bad decisions of their 20s from people’s minds. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, giving pause to contemplate the mark they’re leaving on the world, but still realizing that they have many years left to live, and need to live them well.
So where do I find myself on this spectrum, and what am I looking forward to in the next decades of my life? As I thought about this question over the past days, I realized that this was an opportunity to take stock of who and where I am in my life, compared to where I’ve been. I try not to dwell on regrets, but I certainly have them. Overall, however, I find that I simply don’t recognize the person I was in my youth anymore. As I’ve crested the hill of my forties, I finally feel like I’m more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have been.
From a physical perspective, I’m healthier and fitter than I ever was when I was younger (still could stand to lose another ten pounds though…). Sure I played a bit of tennis in high school, but I could never have achieved the things I do now in my running endeavours. I’m going to be 42 years old, and completing my first 50 mile race in just over a month. If you would have asked 25 year old me about that, I would have thought I was crazy, and convinced myself that I never could accomplish any such feat.
I’m also much more comfortable in my own appearance right now. I’ve never considered myself very handsome, but the way that I look right now feels comfortable to me. I feel like I’ve finally grown into someone that I don’t mind looking at. I’ve also become much more comfortable expressing my individuality with tattoos. I know I would have regretted any tattoo I would have gotten in my 20s, but now, I feel much more comfortable with my body, being OK using it as a canvas.
Despite having spent 20 years in my career field, I feel like I still have opportunities to continue to grow in it, or even completely change it if I so desire. From the time when my youngest child graduates high school in a few years, I will still have 20 years until retirement. Twenty years is my entire career up to this point, and the idea that I could actually have another two decades to do something amazing in this world gives me hope and peace.
Most importantly, I feel like I’m OK with the person that I’ve become. As many people do, I look back at who I was when I was younger, and sometimes question who that person even is. I like who I am now, even if there are others who don’t. I like the way that I think and they way that I form opinions. I have peace with accepting myself, and others, for who we are. There is an acknowledgement of this person, who I am right now, and a happiness that comes from knowing who you are.
So, from one friend’s thoughts about mortality and legacy, I’ve been able to spend some quality time inside my own head. My life has been a good journey so far, but I can say with confidence that I’m even more excited about what the future may hold. You’re only as old as you feel, and thinking about how much opportunity is left in my life, makes me feel quite young again.