So tomorrow I am officially over the hill. By some strange circumstance (which happens to be called work) I am in Shanghai for this momentous occasion, which really only means that I will be in my 30s for twelve fewer hours than I would have been otherwise. Damn time zones. Who said time travel was impossible?
I haven’t done a lot of research on it, but I believe the phrase over the hill comes from the basic idea that at 40 you are half done. More days behind you than ahead. The idea that 40 is the middle is based on averages – not actuarial averages…more like cultural averages. If you really believe that you have 80 years it’s a good way to live a very average life. The truth is that my half way point may have been 20 years and a day ago or may still come 10 or 15 years into the future. No one really knows – but we mostly act like we do.
Everyone knows the word “Mañana” which a lot of people assume means tomorrow, but I think a more literal translation is “not today”. If you live in the “mañana” mentality there will always be a better day to do something. Always a reason to delay or wait. I choose to live differently.
A lot of people have asked me what my mid-life crisis is going to be. Am I going to get a muscle car, change careers or get a girlfriend? My wife will be happy to know the answer to all three is a very definite no. The midlife crisis comes from the “mañana” mentality. When you reach what you think is the mid point and live in the “mañana” mentality you suddenly get a wake up call that you are half done and you feel the sudden urge to play catch-up. Because you have delayed or put off so many small things, you feel you need a big (and foolish) thing to help play catch up. Why let yourself get behind in the first place?
Call it what you want. Mindfulness. Being present. Focusing on the now. This is not to say that I simply live day to day. I have goals and a plan. But once that plan is set (and revised now and again) I don’t sit around waiting for “perfect conditions” to arrive…”mañana”. I look each and every day for the opportunities I am given and try my best to take steps towards where I want to be. Towards the person I want to be. Towards the legacy I want to leave. And if there happen to be no opportunities that day…then there is always tomorrow.
I think C. S. Lewis described it best in The Screwtape Letters:
The humans live in time but our Enemy* destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants to them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the present is the point of time at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them…either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the pleasant pleasure.
That is why I choose to live in the now. It’s the closest we can get to true freedom. We can’t change the past and we don’t know what the future holds. The only real choices we can make are the ones we make right now.
Choosing to live this way has made 40 seem like not such a big deal. But today seem like everything.