It seems to me…
“We come fresh to the different stages of life, and in each of them we are quite inexperienced, no matter how old we are.” François de la Rochefoucauld.
There have been times in my life when I knew my plans for the immediate future with absolute certainty – until life capriciously intervened and I rebounded in an entirely new and unplanned direction. I can quite truthfully say that I do not actually know who I am for I have been many different people over the course of my life: child, student, father, employee, manager, teacher…
While it is possible to look and observe how my life progressed from one stage to the next, only in hindsight comes recognition of both the iterative and overlapping occurrences of those events that made it all possible. This is no more than external acceptance of the opposing forces that dictated in what direction I proceeded rather than a result of deliberate contemplative predetermination or selection. Life, regardless of preference, remains more reaction than cognitive choice. Perhaps it is for the best but we always are left to question “What if…”. External unanticipated influences exert more direction to our lives than all our planning. There is much truth in the old adage “The best laid plans of mice and men oft times go astray[i].”
We live from life’s crisis to crisis when each event unexpectedly forces us in some new direction. Though external obstacles might appear easily surmountable, we find these steps frequently result in inner growth that can be both tumultuous and difficult. There normally is little available support as only our external challenges are observable to others leaving us to resolve the most difficult of our trials and tribulations unaided as only we appreciate their impact and effect.
In actuality, most of us progress through the major stages of life in a similar manner though men and women might possibly differ slightly as to when they encounter them, especially if a woman postpones or interrupts a possible career for childbearing.
We can look back recalling those life events most forcibly requiring us to change: starting school, graduation, marriage, divorce, childbirth, employment, job termination, serious illness, etc. We change, possibly imperceptibly to others, but we grow and are slightly different. Sometimes acceptance of those changes is easy but some become major crisis events transitioned only after a long and difficult passage. Each of those events required changes in the habits and manners which previously aided us in dealing with life forcing us out of the comfort and safety with which we were familiar.
While many of life’s crises are predictable though possibly unanticipated, other of life’s milestones inject themselves in a more precipitous and unexpected manner; war, recession, natural events or disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, fires…); totally disrupting the flow of life. The manner in which we respond can be as unpredictable as the event itself. Any of life’s crises represent an inflection point identifiable by the major changes required of us.
When starting school, we are forcibly extracted from the safety and comfort of our home and parents, thrust into a totally unknown environment over which we exert little influence, and normally is the first major crisis we face. Everything we have known until then abruptly changes.
The onset of puberty brings physical and hormonal changes along with a new relational awareness of members of the opposite sex. These changes can be especially difficult for those who enter this transition before or after their peers. Few pass through these years without experiencing at least minor psychological turmoil or even trauma.
High school graduation usually is the first crisis in our lives where we have multiple options as to the future direction of our lives: college, employment, military…. Many consider this their opportunity to escape the restrictions of home and parents but for most, that escape is illusionary in that they know the door still remains open for at least temporary shelter. Some flee into marriage which they later frequently believe to have been a mistake.
As we attempt to separate ourselves from our family, we seek to discover our own identity. We immaturely align our actions with contemporaries in symbolical resistance to what we perceive as parental control but in reality basically are consistent with the values with which we were raised.
The universal challenges to overcome during early adulthood are a prevalent inferiority complex and the self-doubt of inadequacy. For some the experience is a turbulent passage occasionally characterized by rebellion or cramped by anxieties. How does someone determine their path into a future where they lack the fundamental experiences facilitating optimal choices?
The mid-twenties gradually bring increased maturity as the myelin sheathing surrounding the axioms in our brains completes development. While most people tend to settle down and concentrate on beginning their own family and career, there also is possible recognition that our initial choices might not have been appropriate or are overly restricting. Some people never discover themselves choosing to simply make a living rather than committing themselves to some life work seeking satisfaction from unrelated sources such as hunting or fishing.
And so life progresses. Somewhere in our late thirties or early forties, we realize the halfway point in our lives has passed and ask “Is this all there is?”. Some change careers or marriages. Others either unenthusiastically accept what their life has become or redouble their effort to reach however they define success or prosperity.
If they have saved and prepared wisely, retirement need not be the culmination of our lives but an open door to new opportunities. None of us enjoys the physical erosion of all we once were but we have a new abundance of choices: travel, volunteer, self-employment…. Yes, we face increasing challenges and no one will claim it to be the best of times but like so much in life, it is what we make it.
Now, from the vantage of age, I am able to observe my children and grandchildren attempting to navigate those same shoals through which I have passed. Though I can offer advice, each must find their own path, make their own mistakes. As has often been observed, it isn’t reaching a destination that is important, it is the journey itself. Fatalistically, each of us eventually arrives at the same destination.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] Burns’, Robert. Poem To a Mouse, 1786.