My Late Fifties—How Life Feels Different

While traveling all over the world for the last five months, spending most of that time with friends, I had lots of deep conversations. Since many of our friends are approximately our age, we found ourselves talking about this stage of life. We discovered a lot of common ground.
I’ll speak for myself. Life feels different at 59. This difference came on quietly, without a crisis. It’s not mid-life idiocy, with sports cars and blondes. And it’s not necessarily unhappy or traumatic. It’s just different, as though I got a new haircut and keep getting surprised when I look in a mirror. Or as if I moved to a new house in the same town, and keep having to remind myself of a new route home.
A big part is that the kids are grown. Yes, they remain very close to my heart, and I’m involved with them in multiple ways, but I’m not responsible for them any more. For the last 28 years of my life (the age of my eldest) I’ve been intensely devoted to raising them.
When I started out I had no idea how wonderfully all-involving this mission would be. I didn’t consciously choose it; it chose me, and caught me up like a tidal wave. Now that it’s over I feel as though I’ve awakened from a dream. And the question is, what am I going to do with my mind every day? Nothing seems half as captivating.
Circumstances have changed, but I’ve changed too. At 59 I realize my limits. I probably won’t win the National Book Award. I won’t appear on Oprah. My running gets slower every year, and I’m just grateful I can still run. Such realizations have pushed me back to basics. If I’m not going to become a world-famous writer, why do I write? If I’m not going to win the race, why do I run? I have to look for reasons intrinsic to the activities themselves. And I find them. I love to write. I do love to run. But it feels different without the competitive zeal.
I’m less driven. In my twenties I itched to test myself. I wanted to write more, more, more. Now I know what I can do, and I’m comfortable with it. I can happily let younger people outrun me, because I don’t need to prove anything. But sometimes I miss the adrenaline.
One more thing: as I think about career choices now, I realize that whatever I choose may be my last big project. At thirty, the future seemed endless. If one choice didn’t work out, I’d have time to try other options. It’s not necessarily so at 59. The choices are more poignant.
Many of my friends are thinking about work with the same intensity they brought to it in their twenties. Some are at retirement age, a dramatic change. Some have lost jobs, and are wondering whether they’ll be employed again. Most are like me, too young to think of retirement, but old enough to feel that whatever we’re doing now, we’ll probably be doing it until retirement. And is that good enough? Will we be satisfied?
I find this to be the most reflective period of my life. Pondering what I’ve done and what I still have to do, I’ve learned more about praying. Patience, thankfulness, graciousness, persistence—these are the virtues I find that I need. To do what I am given to do, not flagging in energy or in the pursuit of excellence, I can’t rely on adrenaline and testosterone any more. I have to summon motivation from another part of my spirit.
This is a new day, at 59. Life has changed without asking my permission. What am I to do with that? How do I redeem the time at 59?


Tags: , ,

7 Responses to “My Late Fifties—How Life Feels Different”

  1. Stuart Says:

    Well, first: You’re never too old for a mid-life crisis (if you want one).
    The corollary is you never too old for a second childhood (again, if you want one).

    Second: if “whatever you choose is likely to be your last project”, maybe you need to tackle smaller projects…..

    Third: why retire? (unless health or family obligations, like caring for a family member require it). If there’s a formal retirement from a job (specific career path), for most of us there’s lots of other things we can do. And there’s no age limit on writing until you’re too infirm that you can’t hold a pen or type on a computer ….

    Fourth: Live within our limits … what a concept….

    i’m 60 this year, and i had always hoped (thought) i would not be subject to the limits all the rest of humanity (and perhaps all life) was forced to endure. Sigh … life’s just not fair…..
    (no need to chastise me, i said/wrote that ironically ….)

  2. Karen Kalinski Says:

    Hi Tim, Wow, you are up-to-date, a blog! I liked this blog, seems true to life. Also, life in a company has gotten much more pressured and insecure (alot of layoffs, alot more work). I am looking forward to sitting on the porch in my rocking chair and drinking my iced tea. God is good! Hello to Popie!

  3. Bill Reichert Says:

    It’s had to believe, Tim, that it’s been 41 years since we were freshman together on the third floor of Toyon Hall! So much has happened, yet at times I almost expect to hop in my car, drive back to Palo Alto, and pop in to talk with you after classes start for the next quarter. That era often seems closer at hand than events of five, ten, or twenty years ago in my life.

    We went through serious layoffs at my company this spring, and while I remained, my secretary of 15 years was let go. It was a reminder of how change is inevitable, although I find myself less and less willing to admit that. Routine has been comfortable to a degree that I would have scorned decades ago. T.S. Eliot rolls through the mind: “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled…” Alas, Mr. Prufock!

    My oldest is 28 as well, so we’re going through the same phase of life as you and Popie are. I found I had to get a dog just to be “Daddy” to someone around the house. (Wives don’t take to that role very easily…) I also joined the choir, and it’s been quite fulfilling. I’m taking voice lessons, and I’m meeting lots of new friends. I’m also “reading” more, that is, listening to about 30 books a year on my ipod, in addition to those found between covers. Life is rich, but it’s still a puzzle in many ways. I know that I’m wiser than I was in college, but oddly that comes from recognizing how little I know now compared to what I thought I knew then. Go figure.

    I’m glad you’re blogging. I hope to follow your blog frequently.

    • timstafford Says:

      Thanks, Bill…. I’ve been struck by the degree to which you, and others, identify with my meandering thoughts on middle age. We don’t usually talk about these things, but I find they occupy quite a bit of the mental framework!

  4. Linda Stringer Says:

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for your thoughts on mid-life. Can you believe we’ll be turning 60 next year? I don’t think I’ll stop working for quite a few years, although I can’t see myself continuing to work w/ 7th and 8th graders for too much longer. Too much stress and drama! I often wonder what God has for me in the next phase of my life (i.e. once I leave this job). How can I make the biggest impact while still on this earth? I suppose the question is, how can we finish well? Ada Lum, one of my heroes of the faith, is now 83, and she asks herself the same question.
    Working for a school system and having a summer off gives me a taste of retirement. I certainly find lots of worthwhile things to do, but I wonder if I would enjoy that on a long term basis. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Say hi to Popie!

  5. Anna Broadway Says:

    I’m a youngster reading this ;), but as a writer navigating smaller-scale shifts of my own, it’s very neat to read a perspective like this. Not everyone is so attuned to the subtle shifts between life seasons — which do, I think, so often raise the questions of purpose and identity — so this was good to hear. Thanks for posting.

  6. Andy Rowell Says:

    Just saw this today (the #1 emailed article at New York Times) and thought of your post.

    July 29, 2009
    Op-Ed Columnist
    59 Is the New 30

    I also looked up this week the ages of N.T. Wright (1 December 1948 = 60) and John Piper (11 January 1946 = 63) after explaining to someone that they have established their fan-bases at this point in their careers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: