Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

On Living into Middle Age

Originally posted on December 31, 2007

Dear Son and Daughter,

I realized that you’re heading into the middle years and realized also that things had shifted. When I was young, in my teens and 20s, the mainstream culture didn’t view mid-adulthood as a time of important development. While it was recognized that adults sometimes changed, yet it was not a social norm expectation that significant change would happen. I don’t mean just career—though that has been part of it; or life stress like divorce etc.—though that also wasn’t infrequent; but rather seeing those times as a time when folks should be changing, maturing beyond what anyone in the 1950s thought was possible.

Now, in the 21st century, I’m into re-visioning mature adulthood. So, with that as a preamble: As you enter your 40s, here are some thoughts about the challenges for this next period:

1. Becoming more sharply aware of the theme of letting go, that there is a skill to this, and recognizing increasing numbers of aspects of life, desires, illusions, etc. that you may wish to practice letting-go on even before you‚re forced to let go.

2. Discovering that most goals, attitudes, themes, ideals, words of any importance require finer degrees of analysis, breaking them down into sub-types, discovering misleading meanings, and other forms of semantic analysis. Things that seem bad may have some good things about them; and things that seem good and noble may have some not-so-good aspects, depending on context, earlier modes of understanding, and so forth.

3. Applying the above and other forms of critical thinking to a great deal that the culture as a whole says is good and bad. Culture tends to reflect common sense, and common sense is often based on simplistic lowest-common-denominator thinking, childish illusion, commercialized cliches, appeals that pander blatantly to prejudice, and so forth.

4. The recognition that significant transformation, paradigm-shifting, opening to new perspectives, may continue throughout life. There is no longer an up to grow, a time when you‚ve made it and can rest into “being” an adult, as if there were a stable end-point. This has always been true to some degree, but the culture hasn‚t recognized much about mid-life and later-life growth and transformation. Not that many people took that on as a normal challenge.

Folks changed on occasion; and in truth, everyone changed a little, but it wasn‚t generally done with a pro-active spirit, expecting to change, reading, thinking, reflecting.

Indeed, there was even a suspicion about change, as if it were a weakness of character rather than a strength.

5. Breaking down myths about what constitutes strength, a “real” man/woman, real masculinity or femininity, a good citizen, and other general idealized roles.

6. Recognizing that you‚ll be learning more important and longer-lasting lessons of greater significance than the type of status given to mastery of the latest electronic gadgets and other fashionable ways of being “with it.” (For example, keeping up with which celebrity is in the limelight or even with what‚s part of popular culture on television may become increasingly irrelevant!)

7. Beginning to recognize that absolutely everything can be imbued with spiritual implications, and this in turn can enrich your experience of life and the relevance of seemingly petty daily encounters.

8. Considering that the mid- and later-years involve the development of the capacities for love-ing, faith-ing, responsibility, wisdom-ing, and the like.

9. Give yourself the gifts of knowing that you can cultivate more refined abilities to appreciate certain aesthetic types of experience, music, dance, poetry, philosophy, nature, and on and on. Robert Hutchins, a past president of the University of Chicago, noted that the purpose of a liberal education is “to make life interesting.” That goal can be applied also to lifelong learning programs.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *