It’s not unusual when looking at pictures of our younger days to feel a bit nostalgic. Seeing ourselves when we were smooth skinned and shiny eyed, when the world held so much promise and every day brought the possibility of new exciting experiences strikes a sweet chord in our heart. Remember when you had energy to burn and napping happened once a day at the end of the day? Sore muscles and tired joints were momentary inconveniences that quickly passed. Good eyes, strong teeth, stamina without end and the ability to eat whatever you want without fear of repercussion were nothing out of the ordinary – just the way it was.
Then one day instead of living the life depicted in those pictures we find ourselves outsiders looking in wishing what had been could be again.
Many believe the past holds the best moments of their life lived. Glory days back in school were as good as things ever got. The early days were the best days. After that the merciless grind of the job and burden of making a living sometimes became all-encompassing. Who has time for fun living in a world where every hour in the day must be productively spent?
I read a book about a 50 year old who felt his life was slipping by. Mistakes and miscalculation that mere decades ago could easily have been overcome now felt insurmountable. The clock was ticking and he feared he was running out of time to be all he could be. His focus was on how great his earlier life had been and how lost he felt having arrived at the ripe old age of 50.
I don’t buy it.
Sure it was grand to be young and strong and energetic back in the day. When it comes to physical prowess youth holds the edge. But what about when you need your brain, when intellect and experience give you the advantage? The adage wisdom comes with age is well said. Diverse experiences over our lifetime teach us how to react and respond optimally to unpredictable situations. It’s hard to realize the benefit of learning from our mistakes when we have not been on this Earth long enough to stumble and get back up few times. We learn over the years to avoid mistakes that caused suffering or hardship. The accumulation of knowledge and experiences along with patience and understanding ideally evolve into something those few in years do not possess – namely wisdom. None of us is born wise – it is the product of time and living.
Before you overdo it with sweet thoughts of those perfect days of yore take a moment to think back on some of the less-than-romantic realities of your younger days. I for one would not want to relive those anxious dating days when I psyched myself up to make that call to invite a classmate on a date. Pacing anxiously up and down the hallway, rehearsing my “lines” as I struggled to get it just right, finally approaching the phone with my heart in my throat only to turn away at the last second to regroup and try again.
What about your first driving test – wasn’t that fun? Or your first visit to the dentist – oh joy! And those nightmares paled in significance when down the road you found yourself impossibly tasked with coming up with some magical solution to ease the pain your daughter felt being dumped by her boyfriend. It is one thing to deal with your own broken heart but quite another to feel the helplessness of a well-intentioned father who only wants his child to be happy and safe but is ultimately at a loss.
Would you really voluntarily relive those moments all over again?
Being young is wonderful but it is only one stage of life. Obsessing over what you could have been or should have done will not change where and who you are today. Don’t waste the possibilities of today to dwell on a yesterday over which you have no control.
I prefer the glass half full perspective when it comes to expectations of what lies ahead. Rather than fret about the things I may not have accomplished to this point I try to focus on what I can do or become or experience. For retirees our second act can be a second chance. Why not pursue dreams of your youth now that you are blessed with unlimited time and relative independence? Accepting that you are getting older does not mean you must surrender meekly. Retirement can be your time to add excitement and new adventures to your life resume.
We cannot change the past and we may not know what the future holds but we can live in this moment and make the best of it. Rather than obsess over what could have been its better to obsess over what still might be. And enjoy!