A few months ago, I endured the unpleasantness that is the annual health checkup. The poking and prodding, the turning and coughing -- it's the definition of awkward, peppered with the threat of the undiscovered.
When I asked my doctor for an overall assessment of my situation, he explained there were two ways to look at it. On one hand, there was nothing to worry about. I was healthy, and my exam had revealed no red flags. Yes, there were issues to watch for, but I hadn't reached the age at which those issues were a concern. Yet.
"You're 38 years old," he said assuringly.
"On the other hand," he countered, "you're 38 years old."
For many of life's issues, there's a relatively immediate solution. If you need milk, you stop at 7-Eleven. If you need a passport, it arrives in four to six weeks.
This ability to solve problems (at best) in a matter of minutes or (at worst) a matter of months has made my world manageable, restricting any anxiety to my field of vision. If I can see it, I can handle it.
But recently I've had to accept that more awaits beyond the horizon. As my doctor made clear, I'm 38 now, which is almost 40, which comes right before 50, which means I'm two clicks shy of being Jack Klompus with an enlarged prostate.
When it comes to the important stuff, from finances and family to health and career, success is a long-term project. Progress cannot be achieved all at once, it has to be accumulated over time, little by little, until it adds up to a lot. And one of my worst fears is waking up at 48 or 88 and realizing that it's too late, that I didn't save enough cash or that my arteries are lined with plaque or that I left rungs on the professional ladder untouched.
I look in the mirror, and I wonder how I can avoid such fates. What measures can I put in place? What opportunities should I pursue, and what risks should I take? Fast-forwarding into the future, what will I regret not having done that I should've been doing all along?
I am simultaneously terrified of and indifferent to money. When I was younger, all I cared about were that day's debts. Can my earnings cover a trip to McDonald's? Even now, as long as my paycheck outweighs my credit card bill, I'm satisfied.
This strategy is as selfish as it is shortsighted. Thankfully, my wife is the smart one, and she's helped shift our focus to the future. We're conscious of our spending, and we contribute to our 401(k) plans. We're working with a financial adviser, and we've upgraded our home in hopes of maximizing our ROI.
It's a conflicting dynamic, spending (a ton) now in hopes of saving for later. These steps provide some comfort, but not enough to no longer fear not having enough. And it doesn't take much to send my mind racing...about how we have to have money for retirement...and insurance...and stocks and bonds...and roof repairs and nannies and a new water heater...and long-term care and foundation cracks and clothes and cars, and kids who don't yet exist, who'll also need clothes and cars, and a mortgage that runs through 20-freakin'-45, and...
I will now go hyperventilate into a paper bag.
Walking into my office, there was no doubt about what awaited for Friday breakfast. Donuts. Lots of them. Glazed. Frosted. Heaven.
I was raised on donuts. When my dad drove me to school, he'd ask if I wanted to, "Hit the 'D,'" and I'd begin weighing the virtues of powdered versus chocolate iced. I'd rotate between each, but my order was always the same: two donuts, one milk, zero guilt.
That aroma in the office air took me back to those days, igniting a Pavlovian onslaught of saliva. Then I realized I no longer had a 9-year-old's metabolism, and I never would again.
Watching what you eat sucks. It just does. My body's tolerances have changed, but my taste buds haven't. It's not just the stomach rolls that kill you after a weekend splurge, it's the shame, the sense of failure that you couldn't keep out of the cookie jar. I'd consider going Nutty Professor if it meant eating Chick-fil-A without remorse.
The dietary changes I've made aren't solely about vanity, though, they're about well-being. They're about the state of my valves and cholesterol and blood pressure, and how their health impacts my long-term quality of life.
I still eat plenty that I shouldn't, I just pick my battles. If I'm going rogue, I better be going full Bowe Bergdahl. No glucose consumed in vain. Will the seconds of mainlining pleasure trump the hours of guilt between now and when I can work out next?
For my office's donuts, it was determined they did not. Instead of eating the last chocolate iced, I opted for deprivation, slinking back to my desk to eat a bowl of oatmeal. Which tasted like victory and defeat.
My mother used to constantly remind me to stand up straight. We'd be at the grocery store and see an older person hunched over, and she'd flash an expression that warned, "You want to end up like that?"
I have neither, but it hit me that even if I did, how long would I have them? At some point, won't my skin start sagging and my muscles start deteriorating? If I'm going to dissolve into a wrinkled pile of flesh, shouldn't my goals be more functional than superficial?
That's why I've swapped some of my strength training for yoga, the de facto fountain of youth. Flexibility, balance, durability -- that's what's going to allow me to keep moving. That's what's going to allow me to swing a golf club and wrestle my grandkids and reach my Visa to pay for their college.
And hopefully in the future, when I employ my Marine-like posture to grab Depends off the top shelf, the young mothers of Safeway might point to me as anything but a cautionary tale.