A few days back it was my wife Kendra’s birthday. It is always a risk to write about one’s spouse, particularly when your spouse also reads your posts! Add to that now the risk of talking about a woman’s age and I am starting to feel like I am skating on thin ice! So let’s start by saying I love Kendra very much and there isn’t another person I’d rather grow old with. Doh! Did it again! Sorry my dear!
Seriously what is this thing we have against growing older?
I remember going on a fishing trip years back and we were sitting in the main lodge with the owner and a friend of the owner. They were both in their 60’s or later, so when the friend got up out of his chair to refresh his drink all his joints creaked and cracked. “%*#^}*#”, he said. “I hate getting old!” The owner replied “I’m not sure why you are complaining about getting old when you consider the alternative. Worst thing that ever happens to you is you stop getting older!”
It’s true! Why do we wish this for ourselves? Where did the youthful exuberance surrounding growing up go? “When I grow up I’m going to …. !”. And when do we make the switch from trying to speed up the aging process to trying to slow it down? What makes us do that?
I’m sure many of us are familiar with this desire to “stop the clock“. But how does this explain another competing tendency we sometimes experience? That of wishing away parts of our life or rushing on to the next milestone.
- “Oh my, I can hardly wait for my vacation!”
- “When am I going to be able to retire?”
- “This meeting is so boring … when will it ever end?”
- “When can I go for lunch?”
It’s interesting how we view time. As just described, we just want to run away from some moments in time, some “now’s” if you will, and at other times we seem to wish for anything other than moving forward into the future. The birthday example is one of these, but I’m sure we can come up with others.
- An encounter with someone else that we aren’t looking forward to.
- The departure of a favourite colleague from the department.
- The completion of a really interesting project.
- The end of a contract which leaves us unemployed.
- A difficult conversation we would rather not have
The nature of both these states, the “I can’t wait to get out of this now” and the “don’t make me move on from this now” both actually point to a lack of presence with what is happening in right now. In the first case we are focused on the discomfort of the moment rather than what is truly happening and in the second case, even though wishing to remain in this moment, it is our trepidation about future moments that prevent us from engaging in thinking in the present that will help us move forward.
My father-in-law Ed Milliken has a wonderful approach to life. Ed is 82 years old but you would never know it by either his physical countenance or his youthful exuberance. I’ve never asked Ed this, but my guess is he never thinks about dying, only about what else there is to create, express, experience, and contribute. Without really thinking about it he has created an amazing ability to live in the present and enjoy the moment while being productive and connected to others.
Are there parallels to this at work? Are we actually wishing a valuable opportunity away in our present assignment away when we long for or lament missing a promotion to a higher position, when we may not yet have had the experiences necessary for us to excel in that position? Do we hold back from having critical conversations with someone that when it goes well will lead to growth and fulfillment, out of the fear that it goes badly? Do we change jobs or companies looking for greater satisfaction before we ask for what we want within the context of our current assignment?
Or do we show up each day, in each now, plans for the day in hand but ready for any curves the day will throw at us? Do we take each event in stride and be our best in dealing with it? Do we allow our careers to unfold in a natural way where our skills and talents are always on display for leadership to observe and value? Do we allow ourselves an honest perspective whether we are happy and engaged in our work?
There was wisdom in the old fisherman. While he was joking about his friend’s lament he kindled a theme in my life. A desire to embrace every day of getting older along with an awareness that we can’t skip ahead. And a desire for those days to be fulfilling.
Another of my wise octogenarian friends, a golf partner, has a favourite expression that would be good for all of us to embrace … “Another great day on the right side of the grass!” And that, at the end of the day, will always be better than the alternative!