At the end of the year, everyone got reflective on the previous ten years. I decided to wait until my next trip around the sun came to pass.
Or something close to it. Next week, I’ll hit one of the milestone birthdays. The Big 5-0. Yeah, I know. A strong fear of ageism gives me pause even mentioning the number, partially because I still feel like a 30-something and admitting otherwise might (erroneously) bring on a bunch of “OK, Boomer” darts hurled my way. I’m Gen-X, ya knuckleheads. Get it straight.
The fact that I’m getting off-track might, indeed, be a sign of advancing age. So, let’s get past all that. Some thoughts that are rolling through my head right now go something like this…
I spent the first full decade of my adult years working lots of hours for low wages, all to build a resume and reputation that would land me a better gig. By age 28, I got that job, and my career got much more interesting and profitable.
That allowed me, in my 30s, to take a whole different path. That decade was all about exploration. I rediscovered by love of hiking and the outdoors and hiked my first 14er. I took up jujitsu and eventually became an instructor. I traveled to China, Thailand and several places in the Caribbean. I won’t lie, my 30s were awesome.
And then my 40s showed up. Like a storm.
That promising job turned sour. My oldest brother – a friend, mentor and confidant – got sick. Then I got laid off and spent four months looking for work just as the country was coming out of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And my brother ultimately succumbed to cancer. All that happened within 16 months of what was the worst time in my life.
Finding new work meant uprooting from the community I’d lived in for two decades. Even with a new gig, bankruptcy became a real possibility. To this day, the relatively good times, financially speaking, of the prior decade are just a memory. The middle class ain’t what it used to be.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Amid the storm, there were rays of light.
I took up running. And then trail running. I met some fantastic people in the running community and eventually ran my first half marathon. And then seven months later, my first marathon.
I still found time to hike, camp, take road trips and climb mountains. I met more great people in these endeavors, from many states. Tougher, more rewarding ascents followed. And solo road trips and hikes.
In 2011, I was looking for an outlet to write about these experiences, so I started this blog. I wasn’t expecting it to be anything more than an opportunity to practice a craft I love, and hopefully people would get something out of it.
Seven years later, I wrote and published a book. I’m not on any best-seller list, but it is by far the best thing I’ve ever done in my writing career.
As my next milestone approaches, I’ve got plans to do more. And looking back, I know there is value in the struggle. I’ve found that I write better from a place of pain, and if not for the wounds I suffered in my 40s, I’m sure anything I produced would have been less than what it is. I mean, you can appreciate the blues to a point, but you don’t really get it until you’ve suffered. That’s the weird thing about the human condition – those sufferfests might break you, but if they don’t, they will make you. Struggling through the storms gives me a better place to see other people, too. I see your gray areas, your flaws and your tragedies and I get it.
I’ve got this thing in my head that believes age is just a number, that I can run and hike and bike and live out loud and as hard as I want, even when the AARP comes knocking at my door. I’ve always had a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome.
But I’m OK with that. Because it means I’m going to run trails, line up for races, lift hard, camp in the cold, exhaust myself on mountain ridges and seek solace and understanding in lonely, wild places. I’ll keep trying weird foods, especially those in other lands, if I get that opportunity again. And I’ll sit down for a beer or three with just about anybody, because all of us have only so much time, and really, we’re in this thing together, like it or not.
And above all, I want to be a better human. How many crises could I have avoided and how many people could I have blessed by just doing that.
What will the next ten trips around the sun look like? Who knows? Each decade has been vastly different from the others, so I can only imagine that will be the case again.
So off I go, toward the second star on the right and straight on till morning. I don’t know any other way.