We go through life on a linear time scale, a logical rhythm of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades. Time is orderly, and so we often group ourselves and others according to how much time we’ve spent on Earth.
This is important to people in their 20s. This is what people in their 30s are facing. This is what we should be doing in our 40s. These are the changes people in their 50s will see.
So much advice is based on the idea that life happens in stages, and those stages are age-based. But age often has less to do with our best course of action than the circumstances we find ourselves in. I can’t tell you how many times people a decade older than me lament the trouble their 17-year-old is giving them, then say to me, “Just wait, you’ll see.” Uh, yeah, my step kids are both older than that. Let me tell you what you’re in for.
We tend to anchor our own life experiences to age, and then we look at others who are that age and assume they are probably going through the same things we did. (I’m absolutely guilty of this, too!)
But major life experiences are not so neatly chronological. You can go to bed childless and wake up a parent of twins, and you can do it whether you’re 18 or 38. You can go to bed happily married and wake up widowed, whether you’re 27 or 72. You can go to bed employed and wake up to find your place of business shuttered without warning no matter your age. You can go to bed in hopeless debt and wake up with the resolve to one day wake up debt-free, no matter your age.
Within each neat chronological window, there are many phases of life that intertwine and overlap, and each requires us to adapt our actions and attitudes to get through them — or, better yet, thrive in them. My wife has a phrase she likes to use: A time and a season.
The seasons of our lives
It would be easy to think of seasons as being aligned with decades: the carefree 20s, the family-centered 30s, the career-building 40s, etc. But each of us is on our own seasonal schedule, influenced by the circumstances we choose and those chosen for us.
I believe we are at our happiest when we recognize which season of life we are in and embrace the things that support and nurture our bodies, minds and spirits in that season. And, just as important, recognize the changing of the seasons may require us to bring out different qualities or habits, much like we change clothes to match the weather.
My social life in my 20s vs. my social life in my late 30s is different not because of age, but because the circumstances of my life have changed. Back then I was single, working late nights, living in a tourist town. Trying to live that same life in this season, as a married father working more or less “normal” hours and commuting to the suburbs, would be a hot mess.
Even as I lived that life, there were coworkers then who were my age and yet had already been married, started a family and lived in the suburbs. Same age, different seasons.
Now is the time; the time is now
When my wife and I decided to have our daughter, we looked at what was going on in our lives then and what would be going on in them once we had another child. My step sons were teenagers, largely able to be left on their own, and splitting time with us and their father. We had several weekdays and every other weekend free to go to concerts, go on trips, attend parties.
Having a baby would change all that. There would be someone there every day and night who would need our care and attention. Late nights were going to be few and far between. Trips were going to be different. Our seasons would change.
So we decided to be proactive about the transition.
It was called The Year of Partying. We went to every concert that we were vaguely interested in, took several trips and cruises, said yes to social engagements even if we weren’t totally feeling it. We recognized that it would be many years before we would have the chance to live that way again, and we relished the time we had then so that we could enjoy the changing of the season without regret.
Now, over five years later, we’re starting to ease back into some of the things we’ve put on hold. We recognize there’s been another change in the weather, and we’re able to appreciate it.
What season are you in?
If you find yourself feeling like things that were working all of a sudden don’t, or that what used to make you happy or excited isn’t anymore, ask yourself this question:
What season am I in, and is what I’m doing right for that season?
Maybe you’ve been laser focused on crushing your debt, and once that’s done all those money behaviors that made you so successful at it suddenly don’t make the same sense that they did. Or maybe you’ve been so wrapped up in living the high life that you suddenly realize it’s time to pump the brakes and get control of your spending.
Perhaps you’ve stayed in a job you weren’t excited about because you needed financial stability while something was going on at home, and now that thing has passed and you’ve got room to pursue something different.
Or your kids are getting ready to leave home and strike out on their own, and all those daily parenting tasks are going to give way to loads on free time you haven’t had in years. What does that mean for your marriage if it’s been years since you’ve been “just a couple”?
It could be that a relationship that made sense in the past no longer feels like it fits with the present.
Recognize the change in seasons in your life. Remove that which is no longer in season, and add the things that make you better prepared for it. Whether people, habits, biases, notions, things or attitudes, we can choose what we bring with us as we pass through each one.