NOTE: This article was originally posted to my previous blog, “The Healing Project,” in August 2010.
This coming Sunday, August 8th, is my birthday. I will turn 44, which officially places me in my mid-forties. There’s no denying it at this point; I’m now “middle-aged.” I don’t like the imagery evoked by that term, but I know intuitively that the term has no real intrinsic meaning.
The labels we place on ourselves are what we make them, much like life itself. To quote an old Talk Talk song from the 80s (I don’t have to worry about “dating” myself since I already gave my age away!), “Baby, life’s what you make it. Celebrate it!”
Instead of fearing the aging process or denying it, I choose to embrace it and face it head-on. Although I have the requisite wrinkles and grey hairs that inevitably accompany middle-age, I feel the positive points of having reached this milestone far outweigh the negatives.
I’ve decided to dedicate this post to my reflections at mid-life.
- What have I learned about life and myself over the years?
- What would I tell my younger self if I could be transported back in time to talk with her?
- What wisdom could I impart to her to help make her journey a bit less troubled and fraught with difficulties?
I can encapsulate my key words of wisdom into three main points, which I will address in detail below:
- Feeling good is more important than looking good.
- Life is more than accomplishments.
- Strive for balance in all things.
Feeling Good is More Important Than Looking Good
When I was in my teens and twenties (heck, even a large portion of my thirties), looking good was of the utmost importance. I risked my health in countless ways, all in the pursuit of my image of beauty and perfection. I starved myself, exercised obsessively, binged and purged, and abused diet pills and other substances in order to achieve the unrealistic and unhealthy level of thinness I felt was attractive. My eating disorders pushed me to the brink of death on multiple occasions and I am extremely lucky to have survived and to be alive today.
My younger self lived for the moment and didn’t consider the potential lasting repercussions of her actions. I didn’t realize at the time that I would still be feeling the effects of my misguided behavior many years down the road, yet I am convinced many of the health concerns that continue to plague me are rooted in the self-destructive behaviors of my earlier years.
Sadly, it is only in the absence of good health that many people come to value their physical well-being. It is all too true that vibrant health and vitality is our greatest blessing and that it is difficult to experience life happiness without it. The old adage that without our health, we don’t really have anything is painfully true.
If I were granted the ability to speak with my young and troubled self, I would do my best to convince her just how important health is and that feeling good is more important than looking good. I would also strive to expand her view of beauty to include body types other than extreme thinness and to highlight the value of inner beauty.
I am not sure how much of an impact my pleas would have on the young me, as I was extremely depressed and void of any real sense of self-worth at the time, but perhaps my words will have a positive effect on some of my young readers. If I could turn back the clock, I would embrace my youthful health and strive to be strong, vibrant, and athletic instead of thin and unhealthy.
Life is More Than Accomplishments
When I was younger, my life was all about achievement. I wanted to graduate college with honors, do the same with graduate school, and climb the corporate ladder to what I thought was “success.” As I’ve matured, my perspective on success and accomplishment has changed. The things I thought would lead me to feel happy and satisfied did not produce that result. I’ve come to realize that true success consists of inner peace and being able to look in the mirror and be happy with the person you see staring back at you.
If you ask a person in his twenties or thirties about his goals for life, it’s likely he will speak about career aspirations and the “American Dream” of owning a home. Of course, he might also mention his dreams of marrying and starting a family, but chances are his initial statements will be career-related.
If you ask a person in his fifties or sixties to share his goals, the response will generally be focused in a different direction. He will likely speak of spending more time with his family, pursuing a hobby, or traveling to other areas of the world. The older person typically values experiences over accomplishments. This doesn’t invalidate career pursuits, but it does highlight the importance of balance in life.
A few years ago, I was out with a small group and we got to talking about success. When I lamented my lack of success, I was met with surprise from my companions, who stated that they considered me to be quite successful. When I tried to argue with them, one woman enumerated the facets of my success: a happy marriage, living in an area I love, my educational accomplishments, my freedom to set my own schedule and pursue passions, and my continued path toward self-improvement. When I thought about it, I realized she was right. Although I didn’t necessarily fit the societal definition of success, my life was quite successful indeed!
Truth be told, I still wrestle with my personal definition of success and grapple with feelings of failure and inadequacy. However, my view of success has become more expansive in recent years. It now includes more facets of my life besides career and money and is centered more on living a happy and balanced life.
The midlife me knows that at the end of my life journey, I won’t be wishing I’d spent more time at the office or engaged in the pursuit of career accolades or the financial trappings of success. If I could, I would tell the younger me that she should invest as much energy in her relationships and passions as in her education and jobs and that she would be happier for this.
Strive for Balance in All Things
I touched on this point above, but it is worthy of repeating. A balanced life is a happier and more fulfilling life. The young me would often focus on one aspect of life (such as career) to the exclusion of all other areas. I would often work very long hours and sacrifice my relationships and health in my steadfast striving to reach certain milestones.
The more mature me knows it isn’t wise to allow any one area of life to occupy all or most of my time and attention. I now make sure to devote energy to all key facets of my life. I don’t necessarily dedicate the same amount of time to all areas, but I no longer neglect any area completely.
What Else I’d Tell My Younger Self
There is a lot more that I would say to my younger self if I were given the chance. I would speak to her about the importance of gratitude, self-awareness, growth, self-respect, kindness, and many other values and traits. I would also illuminate the subject of balance further, which will be the topic of a future post. For now, I will simply state that I am extremely grateful to be reaching my 44th birthday and to be on the important and rewarding path toward healing my life!