This past week I celebrated my 50th birthday.
"You're 50...?? You?! Nooo. I thought maybe 37 at the most," a younger Facebook friend posted. "You're only 50? Ahh, so young," came a post by an older relative. It's funny how our perceptions of age depend on where we are on the timeline of life.
Turning 40 10 years ago wasn't so bad -- I realized I could finally stop explaining my behaviors and choices to others. I mean, after all, I was "in my 40s." Turning 50 was a tad different, not just because it's half of a century, but because there have been a few points in my life where reaching 50 years might not have been possible ... because I wouldn't have been alive.
Yes, four different near-death experiences involving cars, cliffs, and cancer have forced me to walk a fine line between the earth and stars in my short time on this planet. But each time, I've come out stronger. In fact, each event has given me renewed appreciation for my life and the inspiration to keep exploring, learning, and growing.
Another direct benefit of living through these experiences was the change in my worldview about life: In my mind, there is no "hill," only a challenging, powerful, beautiful, and sometimes dangerous mountain. And the best part? You never come down -- it's uphill all the way to a tremendous summit. And I heard that the view from the top is paradise.
"What's that?" you say. "Uphill? That certainly doesn't sound very good..."
Allow me to explain.
It's natural to visualize an uphill hike as a constant struggle or a difficult challenge, but if you are in good physical and mental shape, it can be incredibly fulfilling -- even make you stronger. Take, for example, my recent hike up the Manitou Incline, a Colorado challenge that lures its hikers more than 2,000 feet up the side of a mountain in less than one mile. If I hadn't trained for the hike, my experience could have been miserable. But I did prepare and it was incredible.
Hiking is a good metaphor for life. When we pack light and keep ourselves in good physical, emotional, and spiritual shape, we survive -- and even thrive. We will face times that require great endurance, but there will also be amazing views, plenty of sunshine, and cool breezes when we need them. And if we're in good company, everything's just a little sweeter.
So is it worth the challenge to get the view from the top? I think so. But everyone has his or her own path and so I try to stay focused on my own journey.
For me, turning 50 has solidified these truths:
Timeouts are good. If I'm planning to live to 100-years-old (which I am), then 50 is Base Camp: time to pause, regroup, jettison some old baggage -- and relationships -- from my past, and prepare to continue up the mountain. Fifty is the plateau and a resting spot. Fifty is the midpoint water stop with plenty of nourishment, refreshment, and introspection.
People are most important. Gathering with several close friends last weekend who are also turning 50 reminded me that we all succumb to the rules of Planet Earth -- we get older, we (hopefully) get wiser, and we will change. But the relationships we nurture will only become more valuable. The people in our lives will always make the difference -- and make up for the memories pruned over the years.
Be true to your dreams. After a few decades of expectations and disappointments, many of us realize that it's important to never stop dreaming. We're always creating -- whether we're conscious of it or not -- so why not create more of what we really want? Why not keep dreaming bigger? Many people are waiting to take action, but that's not necessary. Focus on what you want; do and say those things that align with your dreams; and then have faith that things are always working out for the best -- regardless of the outcome. Sometimes we need to believe before we see.
Honor the perspective of others. Depending on our environment, the context, and which direction we are facing, we will all have a different experience -- and that is good. We can use our unique perspective to educate those around us, and by softening our stance, we create the opportunity to learn from others as well. Each one of us will experience the world differently, and that is how we share our journeys and lessons learned. We are all students and teachers at different points of our lives. Be willing to be both.
Appreciate each day. Yes, I know, "just be happy" sounds like a great plan, but life is life. So even on down days, we can still conjure up gratitude. Of course it's easier to keep a positive attitude when life goes our way, but even when our happy day fades -- which it ultimately always does--we can find relief quickly in the people, places, and positive triggers that remind us about happiness when we forget. Appreciation can always bring us peace and acceptance when we need them most.
Learn more about different perspectives on life in Balancing Work, Relationships & Life in Three Simple Steps, or another book in Michael's collection at michaelsunnarborg.com/books
Image: A 49 year-old me as I summit the Manitou Incline, Colorado.