Today is my 50th birthday, a milestone that is both monumental and mundane. Mundane because it is a day quite like any other. Monumental because as I have approached it, my thinking has been quite different and my perspective quite changed. This weekend, I FaceTimed with my maternal grandparents, both of whom turned 100 earlier this year. Because of this, I use the mental shorthand to assume that my turning 50 means that I have reached the halfway mark of my life.
Let me start by saying, reaching 50 is in no way inducing a mid-life crisis. With each year that passes, I grow ever more comfortable in my skin. What has changed, though, is that I am increasingly aware of the finite nature of life.
Of course, I have always known that life is finite, intellectually. But the analogy that comes to mind, is driving a very long, very straight road that slowly climbs a hill. All you can see is the road rising in front of you, You know that there is road on the other side of the crest, but cannot truly imagine it because it is hidden. So you assume that the road will continue much the same as it has, unchanged,
Until just a year or so ago, I was thinking that way about my life. I assumed I would keep working much as I had, until 70 or 75 years old, and didn’t really think concretely about what life might be like as I aged. This, even though my parents are of course getting older and making decisions that come with that stage in life, and my grandparents are clearly nearing the end of their road. (Although, my grandfather says they have to hang on until at least 103, so they can celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary!)
But in the past months, completely unrelated to the pandemic, I have come to realize that I am not in the middle of a second of three acts in my life. I saw my first 30 years as the opening act, the next 40 as a middle act, and the final 30 or so as the closing act. This meant that I had another 20 years or so of continuing to climb the career ladder, advance to new heights, and reach my full potential. In other words, I thought that the road would continue on the other side of the crest of the hill, much as it has before.
Now, as I crest that hill, I am starting to see the landscape differently. Perhaps there are four acts, each about 25 years long. I have reached the mid-point of the play and instead of spending the next act trying to scale the heights, I should explore other ways to reach my full potential.
Some things will not change: I love to learn and grow. I am curious about new things and eager to test my limits and challenge myself. Those opportunities can be more intrinsic rather than extrinsic. I also love to help other people learn and grow. I think I already have that at the core of my work, as I am in HR, leadership and people development. As the third of four acts begins, I want to look for other ways to help others grow, maybe outside of so much emphasis on the work context.
Whatever path the road after the hill’s crest takes, I am appreciative of all the blessings and advantages I have: my family, headed by my centenarian grandparents, are loving, grounded in values, and surprisingly functional. I have a good network of friends, both the ones from my younger years and the ones I have developed in my years here in Bangkok. And I have a loving, patient husband who challenges me much as I challenge him, the both of us being the better for it.
Fifty may not be the halfway point. It could well be near the end – nobody can know. But I will live life as if there is much more of the road to travel, while being more conscious to appreciate and take full advantage of each kilometer that passes and not take it for granted.