Here we are, experiencing New Year’s Eve. We’re thinking about kissing 2008 good-bye (and, perhaps, good riddance). Most likely, we’re looking forward to tomorrow and a new beginning. I say, “Most likely,” because, as a person having to deal with midlife, you may also have some other thoughts on your mind today. Are you thinking, perhaps, about the aches and pains that you have today that you didn’t have at this time last year? Have you noticed that you can’t lift as much weight as you used to (except around your gut, of course) and that your stack of ‘skinny pants’ is either growing larger or you’re making ever more frequent trips to Goodwill with them? Were you attending more funerals last year of classmates, friends and relatives in your own peer group than ever before? Are you starting to think that the Grim Reaper has a target painted somewhere on you?
Tomorrow, perhaps, yo u’re telling yourself that you’ll start working on all those New Year’s resolutions. Here’s what I say: “Bah! Humbug!” Christmas isn’t a humbug (as Scrooge found out), but New Year’s resolutions certainly are! It’s a time when all the fitness centers rake in the cash from people whom they’ll never see again, come March. 12-step recovery programs see a steep increase in attendance after New Year’s (which, by the way, they refer to as ‘amateur night’). All the desperate cries of ‘Oh, God! If you’ll only get me out of this, I swear I’ll never do it again!’ come together in one loud chorus over the next few days. You and I want things to get better, but, in the pit of our stomachs, we have a very unsettling feeling that such may not be the case. For every year that passes, the spectre of mortality seems to loom just a little bit larger.
Not only does that uncertain knowledge that every day that passes since the day of your birth bring you another day closer to an uncertain end, your hours pass noticeably quicker and your days seem clearly shorter than they used to be. Remember when you were six and your birthday took forever to come? Now, breakfast comes every ten minutes. I now know why old folks often look disheveled: time goes so fast that it seems somebody installed a revolving door in the shower: we’re no sooner dried off when it’s time to get back in again. This stuff doesn’t just happen at midlife, but it’s at midlife when you really start to notice it; and it certainly contributes to the impact you experience along with andropause and all the other symptoms of this transition. I think it’s almost inescapable that the midlife transition would appear to you as a harbinger of that other transition; you know: the permanent one!
Interestingly, one of the exercises that I occasionally use with my coaching clients involves having them write their own eulogy . . . assuming, of course, that they had lived a good, full, long life, and then had quietly passed away. The assignment involves having the client look back from a theoretical future on the life he or she would like to have lived. You can see that it’s not a silly exercise at all. As Stephen R. Covey says in The Seven Habits: “Begin with the end in mind.” If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when arrive? Also, particularly during the midlife transition, you get to face the fact that, for much of your life, you’ve been chasing after someone else’s concept of ‘success.’ Since we’re talking about the end today, why not do that for yourself for a few minutes? Think about how you would ideally want to look back and see your life as it unfolded. And, get serious: don’t go pretending that you want Donald Trump’s properties, or Bill Gates’ billions. You might as well want to be the lead dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet. There’s a lot of stuff that we think we want, which, if we ever got it, would make us perfectly miserable. Forget all that. Go for the gold!
What’s the real ‘gold’ for you? What if you died in ideal physical condition, supporting yourself and your family by doing the things you love to do the most, with the people you most love surrounding you with unstinting intimacy, knowing the esteem of your peers, having created a meaningful and lasting legacy, at peace with yourself and your Higher Power? Can you define all that for yourself (the more specific you are, the more likely you are to achieve it)? Here’s my gift to you for 2009: don’t concern yourself with things you’re going to do or not do in the coming year: that’s all about the ‘how’ of things – your process. That’s short-term thinking, and won’t last through the first change in your emotional and physical environment. Instead, you want to create a vision (long-term: your life; and short-term: this year) that will motivate you and give you a star to steer by regardless of your changing circumstances. Then set yourself a theme for 2009. Post it where you’ll see it, and live it on a daily basis. Mine, incidentally will be: Care enough to give the very best. What will yours be?
The end is no longer near – it’s here! So please accept my best wishes for a happy, prosperous, blessed, and successful New Year, (regardless of how you choose to envision your success).
H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
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