Life’s What You Make It

Well, we’re all getting older. What do you make of it? I ran across an interesting post by Ben Casnocha, which referenced an article by Benjamin Schwarz which includes this comment on John Updike:

Above all, and most poignantly, this collection highlights Updike’s evaluation of the slackening of his own mental and athletic prowess… A generous and companionable critic and an avowed Christian, Updike met the decline of his powers with courage and good humor, but also with a clear-eyed recognition that the compensations of old age—a hard-won sagacity, a bemused detachment—don’t make up for the irretrievable losses.

Here’s the thing – you have a choice about whether or not the compensations of old age make up for the losses.

I was in the best physical condition of my life when I was 20. And I was a wreck. I was a befuddling mix of arrogant and insecure, I was struggling at university, I was depressed. I had gifts that were not yet developed, and potential that seemed to be fading rather than emerging.

In short, I was an idiot. But probably not that far off the norm for a 20 year old either.

By the time I hit 30, things were a bit better. Nancy and I had just gotten married, which was great. Work was still a bit of a struggle – I still hadn’t figured out how to best use my talent. Physically, I was in ok shape, but nowhere near as fit as I was at 20.

At 40, I was in the middle of making a career change that was the smartest career move I’ve managed to make. There were high levels of uncertainty over whether or not it would work, but life was a lot better than it had been at 30 – even though I was in the worst physical shape of my life.

Now I’m rocketing towards 50 – and things are even better than they had been. Work is good, and some of that potential from when I was 20 is finally turning into something meaningful. Physically, I’m fitter than I was at 40, but I’m starting to lose a few things too, as you do.

I know I’m lucky, but for me, life has just gotten better and better as I’ve aged. Now, Ben Casnocha has been precociously successful, so maybe things will be different for him. I don’t think so though.

Why I am happier now than I was at 20 – despite the irretrievably physical losses? Because of the things I’ve learned, and that I only could have learned through experience. I’m better at executing ideas now because I’ve learned how to do it. This has been the key to developing that long-dormant potential.

This isn’t to say that bad things haven’t happened over the years, or that more won’t happen in the future. Of course they will. But one thing that I’ve learned is that the best way to ensure that your life gets worse as you get older is to convince yourself that life must get worse as you age. It doesn’t have to. The things around you don’t determine how you must live your life – read Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl for insight into that. The knowledge that you gain as you experience life is unobtainable when you’re young. You’d be smart to place a pretty high value on that.

At all ages, life’s what you make it.

Here’s a song by Talk Talk from my fit dance-club days that I stole the post title from:

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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5 thoughts on “Life’s What You Make It

  1. Life is what you make of it. Could just be that, the older we get, the more apt we are to make the best use of our skills. Lessons learned, right?

    Reassuring thoughts, Tim. Sitting on the cusp of 35 here, feeling anxious about getting more miles from these skills. It will happen when the time is right. No sense in rushing things.

  2. I think you’re right Brian about learning how to use our skills as we get older. But part of it too is that we have to go through the experience of misusing our skills to get to the point where we’re good at what we do. As near as I can tell, that’s even more unavoidable than physical declines over time…

  3. That’s a good post Greg – thanks for the link.

    Sorry to hear about your rough patch – glad I could help a bit!

    My back is killing me today too, to be honest…. still, glad to be where I’m at now!