Two of the world’s great philosophers have weighed in about getting old.
“Aging is for people who don’t know any better.” — Exercise guru Tony Horton, creator of the P90X workouts
“Getting old sucks. I don’t recommend it.” — My old man
I am rapidly moving toward being a man of a certain age *cough cough* (or should that be *wheeze wheeze*?). That is to say, I am turning 50 in a few months.
Certainly millions of other men have crossed this threshold before me and millions more will after. But there’s something mystical and captivating about 50.
For one thing, at this stage of half a century, you are forced to slow down.
The conversation I sometimes have with my body goes like this: “What do you mean my knee is giving me trouble?” “What the hell? My bedtime is now 10 p.m.?” And, standing in the bathroom at 2 a.m.: “Why is it taking me so damn long to start peeing?”
And with slowing down, comes reflection. I look back at my mistakes (mostly) and then I look forward and start saying: Gee, what DO I want to be when (if) I grow up?
That’s the thing: There is your biological/chronological age and then there’s your emotional age. And in the case of the latter, I’m 17.
I’m 17 and in the hallway at my friend Silvio’s house, celebrating his birthday with my chums, raising glasses of Tom Collins (long before I embraced the virtues of vodka-and-tonics) and pledging to each other that, like Peter Pan, we would never grow up. We promised to never, ever abandon the essence of our 17-year-old selves.
I still celebrate burping with the gusto of a teen, guffaw at stupid jokes and recite random pieces of dialogue from “Airplane!” as if it was from a Shakespearean play.
Still, it’s hard to keep up that kind of frozen-in-Neverland fantasy when you face an uncertain economic future because of the challenges of your career, the certainty that your kids will soon be leaving your daily protective care and the crapshoot of what your health will be like in your even-more advanced years.
And if that dose of reality were not enough, there are these recurring questions: What is my next act? Have I peaked? Is there anything left for me to wring from my professional career or is it all one slow slide from here?
I was recently looking at a CNN.com slide show of celebrities who this year are turning 50. Among them, Russell Crowe. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Does that put me in good company? Do I look younger than Russell Crowe? Does he look older than 50?
True story: I recently visited my old high school for a Career Day presentation. I ran into a classmate who I had not seen since we graduated in 1982. As I looked into his face, I was like: Holy smokes! His hair is white and he’s got these creases in his face. Boy HAS he aged! I suddenly started to feel very smug and better about myself. Until….Wait just a minute here! He’s MY age!
This is the kind of crap that goes through your mind as a man. How do I stack up compared to my peers? How do I stack up against my own benchmarks of success?
Comics have an expression that speaks to the challenge of slaying an audience with your performance vs. bombing on stage: Dying is easy, killing is harder.
In a similar way, I don’t fear my mortality. Dying is easy.
It’s the living between now and my mortality that, dear 50, is a lot harder.