I just passed another birthday. I had a great day doing fun things. I got to talk to various family members. My new age is not much of a milestone.…57 doesn’t tend to lend itself to any kind of special privileges or notable markers, but I have nothing to complain about. Life has been very generous and kind to me so far.
I did get to thinking about how, as we get older, we naturally must give up on certain things. Giving up things can sometimes feel like losses, but as I thought about it, I realized that aging is really an exchange. For all the possibilities, skills, or precious things we give up as we get older, we gain others in return. A loss here, but a gain there.
For instance, forever gone are any kind of dreams that I will become a professional athlete of any kind! I will also never become a lawyer, fighter pilot, or astronaut. In theory, all those things were on the table for me at some point. Maybe I chose the wrong sport. Maybe I should have gone to law school or joined the Air Force, but I made decisions in certain moments in my life that closed those doors for me..
I did eventually land on a career that I love. I have made choices that have led me to do work which plays to my strengths and for which I’m temperamentally suited. I want to keep doing my work for as long as I can. So no, I won’t become an astronaut, but I got what I wanted in the end. Lost the moon, gained my CFP.
I’ve lost family and friends whom I have loved. They passed away, and I will not see them again in this life. When I was young it seemed like they would be here forever, but time marches on and they reached the end of their journeys on Earth. I know I’ll experience more losses in the future, and that makes me sad.
However, I have gained new people who have enriched my life! If I hadn’t reached this phase of life, I would not have my children or their spouses. I wouldn’t have a ton of nieces and nephews who are, in their various ways, amazing and interesting people. I have met new people in the last decade whom, had I not reached 57, I’d never have met. The pain of loss has somewhat been eased by the memories of those who have passed, and by the wonderful times I will have with those who have come into my life.
I will never again run a mile in under six minutes. I will not drive a golf ball 300 yards. I can no longer eat two Big Macs, fries, and a shake in one sitting without getting stomach cramps. It seems like the aches and pains I get from physical exertion don’t go away in two hours but instead stick around for a week or two. I can’t sleep in past nine am, no matter how late I was up the night before. Those things I once could do are lost to me forever.
Nonetheless, I have been able to read so many more books and have more time to spend contemplating the important things in life because I’m not trying to do everything all at once. I have the time to discover and learn. Being able to get up early is, on balance, a gain. I lost the ability to run fast or eat lots of junk food, but now I know how important exercise and diet are. I lost the ability to take my body for granted, but now I have gained the knowledge to make better health choices.
I’ve lost pigment in my hair and don’t look like I did when I was younger, but I think I’ve look smarter with grey hair! I’ve lost the ability to hear clearly in loud, crowded rooms, but it’s made me a more attentive listener. I’ve traded the capacity to drive for 15 hours in a day for being a more conscientious driver. I probably don’t think as fast as when I was young, but the things I think have more substance to them.
I have lost my self-righteousness. When I was young, I used to know exactly how I felt about so many subjects: politics, morality, manners, faith, tolerance, race, education, taxes…you name it. I felt I knew what was right and what was wrong and had no trouble telling you I was right.
I have lost that certainty, but now I realized I’ve gained that certainty is a trap. Now, the more I think about a subject, the more I see there are many “sides.” I still can separate truth from fiction, but I am more tolerant of others, even when I know they are wrong. Most people don’t want to be mis-informed, so I try to understand them. Age has given me the wisdom I was not ready to receive in my youth. This for that
Some lose a lot more than they gain; others get more than they ever lose. I recognize that I have been blessed. I have lost along the way, but I’ve gained as well. I continue to try to make sense of why it is so. Our job here on Earth, as I see it, is to make it through these exchanges of “this for that” and help others to do the same.
What’s the financial lesson? Use your abundance to help others get what they need, because some day you’re going to need someone else’s help. I have, and you need. You have, and I need. Help each other find meaning in the exchange, because at some point you might be on the losing end. Remember your losses when you gain something.
This for that.