Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Stages of Life

Recently my 17 year old daughter and I discussed my nearly 50 years of experience with life, the evolution of my mindset through time, and my thoughts about roles/responsibilities at each age. I summarized life as

0-10 A time to master the day to day activities of being human
11-20 A time to master the process of learning
21-30 A time to experience the world, take risks, establish relationships, and seek stable employment
31-40 A time to build a household, a family, and a career ladder
41-50 A time to build financial security, support growing children, think about wellness, and nurture your relationships
51-60 A time to fund college, assist adult children with their increasing responsibilities, and to support aging parents
61-70 A time to begin the transition to a different phase of life, pursing those activities that you did not have time or resources to do in the past. Note that this phase is getting later and later in life with many people working past 70. A time to start playing with grandchildren and assisting your children's growing families. Continuing to support aging parents, given increasingly long human lifespans.
71+ Exploring new ideas, new places, keeping your mind and body healthy, aging well.

To which my daughter responded - "How depressing...that you think of life as so linear"

I suggested that life is anything but linear. When I was 5, I wrote a first grade homework assignment declaring "I want to be a scientist". When I was 12, computer science seemed like the right direction. When I was 16, medicine and engineering seemed the right approach. Now nearly 50, I'm a CIO, married for 26 years, with a 17 year old daughter. Completely unpredictable and more of random walk than a linear progression.

Of course, my suggested life timeline is a bit traditional and stereotypical. There are hundreds of variations that may involve zero or multiple marriages, zero or many children, zero or dozen careers. I will not measure my daughter's life success by her adherence to my timeline.

Pondering my life experience, I realize that my current mindset in the 41-50 span includes a different set of challenges, goals, and dreams than in my 21-30 span. I'm continually changing. I remember the pride I felt when I exceeded some of my parents capabilities when I was in 11-20 span. I now feel great humility as my daughter begins to exceed some of my capabilities at the same time in her life.

When I'm asked what span is best, my answer will always be, wherever I am now. My current experiences, frustrations, and relationships always seem most appropriate to my current condition. I only look backwards to gather lessons learned, not to relive any previous events. I recently skipped my 30 year high school reunion because the joys and sorrows of my 11-20 span are no longer relevant after the experiences of three decades.

At times, I struggle with the politics, conflicts, and uncertainties of daily living. I think back on the challenges of my 20's and 30's and realize that any anxiety I felt earlier life was over minor and inconsequential events. In my 50's I'm sure I'll feel that same way about my 40's. Realizing that life is a continuous progression with different roles, responsibilities, and expectations at each stage enables us to look forward to the future, relish the present, and learn from the past.

Onward to the stages ahead!


Ned said...

Thanks John for a very positive view of each decade. I am 76, work 7 days a week, look forward with excitement to very day, and feel better than I did at 40. I retired from business at 55 to work for United Way and help other not for profits. My associates are the ages of my daughters and keep me challenged. I am more committed to my work now, but less personally invested. I would not want to be any other age. Ned

Ravi Kumar said...

I am beginning to relate to this. My six year old daughter keeps asking me questions which I cant answer! making me reflect on 'the stage of life'.

Thanks for thoughts here, John.

Fred Pennic said...

John, I really appreciate this post and it definitely puts a lot of anxieties I feel at age 29 in perspective. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Interesting observations, thanks...

One of mine is: I measure my daughter's success by how happy she is...