Don Rogers: The way of midlife
I finished the book, “Life Reimagined,” joined The Lift’s book club discussion beside the Truckee River, and left both maybe a little wiser.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s study of midlife ended maybe a little triumphantly for me. Too many pretty bows tied, medical issues overcome, later life marriage a bit ideal, athletic goals achieved, and long-needed job change realized to boot. An Instagram post.
There was personal struggle, to be sure, and pain. Some friendships lost, aging mother in her 90s, a broken collarbone and painful vocal chord condition, tough stories about others.
But my feeling at the end tilted more toward Hallmark than my current reading tastes favor. Triumph works just fine, though. I mean, what was I expecting, “Get off my lawn”?
The author is a nice, well-off, now-former NPR reporter looking at what middle age means for people in largely similar circumstances.
That is, if you apply Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this mostly assumes roofs over heads and regular meals and so the ability to consider more actualizing paths ahead. People more able to give of themselves. Still, the questions and challenges for them are real, too.
What is not mentioned specifically in this book but I think I see: What do we owe life?
If the story is hopeful, Hagerty’s 16 suggestions for midlife seem wise for all ages. They are meant as a guide for the individual, but master these and the prospects for healthy community leap. I love paradoxes like that.
I see this as an ideal of conservatism in the sense of being able to lend a hand from a position of personal strength. I don’t mean in a political sense so much, though it also fits well with what was once known as classical liberalism, the long drift of the world since the Magna Carta.
I’m cherry picking standouts here:
Nearly everyone feels the midlife blues. You are not alone.
The middle-aged brain (older, too) can learn almost anything if challenged.
You should always be a rookie at something.
Take trouble in stride. Setbacks not only are inevitable, but they can lead to wondrous new directions.
It’s harder to hurt when you’re laughing. (My personal favorite.)
Define success according to your values, not what you think others expect of you.
The biggest threat to seasoned marriages is mutual neglect.
Do you value the relationship? Then cut him/her some slack.
It’s dangerous at the periphery. (Not a reason to avoid frontiers, though.)
Happiness is love. (Hello Hallmark.)
Aim for meaning and not happiness, and you will find both. (My dad once advised: “When you get old enough to start thinking about retirement, don’t.”)
BE VS. DO
My worldview is much like Hagerty’s, and I agree with her suggestions. We had vastly different upbringings — mine poor and at first as a member of an uncherished minority, such blessings actually — which lends to an inkling that the list applies to everyone, Maslow aside.
So what is my problem with this book, then? I don’t hold her achievement of goals, her Instagrammable moment, against her. I mean the book is not Literature, but it’s not bad reading, either.
I think maybe it’s that she seems more focused on goals and accomplishments, while I’m more interested in habits, the doing of things.
That is, I don’t care about winning a race, but the running itself. Step by step, day by day, and so on. Up early for my own writing, each day, each week, each chapter, no real thought about completion until my wife crooks an eyebrow and asks, “You ever going to finish that thing?”
And so on with career, family/friends, spirit, health, meditative art. A practice, then.
I thrive under deadlines, producing finished works, like Haggerty. I’m just more focused on how the products are not the goal, but only the offshoots of a larger effort.
This must be semantics, though. The list, the book, applies either way.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent, and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299
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