Saturday, September 08, 2018

The Brevity of Life and Making Changes Before It's Too Late

We sense it's now or never, and this can manifest as a mid-life/mid-career crisis.
At a reader's request, I'm excerpting an essay from last week's Musings Report:
My friend GFB recently sent me a quote from Paul Bowles novel "The Sheltering Sky" (1949). If you are under the age of 30, it may not have the same impact that it has on those of us on the downhill slope of life.
"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."
The Bowles quote made me ponder the process of changing our lives, a process that requires greater sacrifices and effort as the inertia of our default settings grows ever heavier with age.
Everything requires effort and sacrifice to maintain: houses, yards, relationships, friendships, organizations, enterprises, roadways, social contracts--everything. If effort flags, things fall apart.
This is what sobers me about aging: the weight of our default settings rises while our ability to generate the willpower, effort and sacrifice needed to change our life declines.
When we think about the stages of life, the trajectories of our default settings and our ability to make sacrifices and exert effort define each stage.
When we're young and just out of high school or college, we have very little baggage (unless we married and had children at a tender age), and so the effort to change--to move, change jobs, etc.--is significant but modest compared to future costs.
This is when people pursue their dreams, and rightly so: start a cafe, move to NYC or LA to break into the arts, film, music, etc., or move to Silicon Valley (or equivalent) to seek one's fortune in today's tech gold rush.
Few gain the success they hoped for in these markets, and so most move on to some place and career that can sustain a livelihood, marriage, family, career or enterprise.
Then a decade or so hence, the inertia has piled up and we sense our ability to make a radical course change is fading as the costs of change--the effort and sacrifice necessary to throw aside the inertia and gamble on a different path--is steepening.
We sense it's now or never, and this can manifest as a mid-life/mid-career crisis.
The experience of this crisis varies with each individual, but in some way, the individual discovers they cannot continue doing what they're doing--they run out of the ability to keep making the sacrifices and effort required to keep their current life from falling apart.
In this crisis, there is no choice but to chance a major course change and risk the storms of the unknown.
In an astonishingly brief blur, we reach the age of retirement or if not retirement, of re-appraisal of our inertia/default settings and our ability to turn the ship of our life onto a new course.
This re-appraisal often feels like our last chance to have a more fulfilling life or pursue a long-suppressed dream. It's little wonder than the retirement of one spouse can trigger a divorce, as one or the other partner decides this is their last chance to jettison an unsatisfactory relationship and seek another way of living, despite the risks and the losses such wrenching changes incur.
What haunts me at 64 is the idea (shared by my friend A.G.) that many of the best ideas lie in the graveyard--ideas that were never developed and recorded and so they died with their originator. In this context, if one has ideas--for inventions, music, fiction, art, enterprise, organizations-- the question in one's 60s becomes: If not now, when?
The answer, if we cannot muster up one final push of effort to make whatever sacrifices are needed to get our ideas out into the world before we die--is never.
Observation suggests that few people manage to change the course of their lives in old age; the ability to conjure up effort and willpower fades and so things fall apart.
In other words, it's always now or never.
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