Privilege Blog

Trying On Wise, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:33am

Here’s something good about the 50s. You’ve lived a meaningful chunk as an adult – about 30 years, as I see it. And 30 years is not nothing.

In 30 years stuff comes and goes, and comes again. Patterns, longer and more subtle, emerge. Traceries matter more than they had, the looming immediate overwhelms less.

Here’s something else good about the 50s, those 30 years qualify us to advise. And maybe, for those of us who have relied on sharp thinking, it’s a time to redeem the value of lucidity. Advice can be gently given, offered with a grain of salt and then refused with no harm done. Gems of knowledge are worth the transfer, even if surrounded by the cognitive equivalent of slurry.

This week I had the occasion to meet with two women in their mid/late 30s. It’s such a privilege to talk to accomplished people, clearly in full stride, and have them grant you senior status. Deserved or not, the nice people give it anyway.

I do have to remember that my first 30 years were then, and this is now. Things I didn’t know, and blundered after, are today a keystroke away and easily knowable by many. I may launch into a litany of hard won insights, and then catch myself, oh, wait, you probably knew this.

The well-behaved show no indication of disrespect at irrelevance. I’d like to right this minute thank all of you who brought your children up to have manners. The entire world is better for your work.

And it was work.

Do those 30 years feel abstract, conceptual? Mine turned real when I realized that in 2015 it will be 30 years since I moved back to California. Seriously? What were you doing, 30 years ago? Does 30 feel markedly more substantial than 20, or 25, to everyone? In other words, is this my psyche or a shared phenomenon?

They tell me the 60s are even better than the 50s. I will have lived 40 years as an adult. What will I know then, about now? I suppose this time is partly practice for elderhood. Trying on a wise guise for size, with absolutely no intention (as shown by that assonance) of leaving the Fool behind.

Have a wonderful weekend.

31 Responses

  1. I’m still raising children. 18 year old twins (boys) and a five year old granddaughter. My older kids always called me the “fifties ” mom. I think that is a compliment in today’s rapid society. I find myself with friends of all ages some of them younger than my older kids. To provide gentle encouragement and sincere conversation is a blessing to people of all ages. This is not a very nurturing society and the values of the dominant culture are not especially conducive to providing a better environment for all living creatures. I work in the environmental field and I witness ego driven mindless behavior by individuals everyday. The more we older individuals share our experiences both positive and negative the more we help shape others values. Most people do not even know what their top five values are. If we live in accordance with our personal values, we are not conflicted. Sorry, a little off topic but this is one of the conversations that I have a lot with both native and non native people. We must all do what we can do to help others find themselves in these confusing times.

    1. @PJ, I think this is very much on topic. I think you’ve abstracted out the higher order, i.e., value creation in society. How to do it well, given that it’s got to be a collaborative venture?

  2. I’m 206 and still going strong! I think, for me, turning 175 was rough; but, after I hit 176, life just seemed to get better and better.


  3. Qualified to advise. – certainly. I find the challenge is discerning when it’ll be constructive and when it will just make me look like a busybody or a naysayer. There are no wisdom transplants. If it looks like a personal experience might fall on fertile soil the I’m good with planting it. Otherwise I wait until I’m asked – which can be really hard!

  4. Thanks for the thanks. It wasn’t easy, but then it’s not hard to live by your convictions. A young uni student asked me when I was expecting my first child, why I would want to bring a baby into ‘this awful mixed up world’ (wow, white middle class suburbia, and she thought THAT was bad) and I replied that the day that good upstanding citizens who live with morals and want to do good in the world stop having babies, that’s when this world will really turn to crap. it turns out that my offspring are becoming good upstanding citizens. I guess the beatings worked huh.

  5. Wisdom, I’m not sure I beyond tentatively dipping my toes in those waters yet. although there is more lucidity, a greater acceptance of the moment and of the ups and downs of the path. Maybe the beginnings of wisdom is just looking forward to what may come next with less worry about what is around the corner. 55 certainly feels like I have gotten somewhere I am more content to linger.

  6. I am still amazed and delighted when younger people think that I have something valuable to offer them, and even more pleased when I realize that I do have some insights that might be of use. And the 60s *are* even better than the 50s, at least if you are in good physical and financial health – mostly, for me, because I no longer felt that I had to prove myself in my career, and because my children were launched and doing well.

  7. Wisdom with 50? It’s about what you have experienced
    in the last 30 yrs and Younger can have more wisdom than a 90 yr old one. Apart from that I don’t think about too much.

  8. I honestly feel that I have wasted the last 20/30 years of my life, I’ve been half asleep I really have, I wish someone had given me a really good shake at 21 but I’ve wafted through life like a flower child thinking it would all fall into place and it hasn’t.

    1. This sounds so familiar! Yes, I said this SAME thing recently to a cherished friend whose dayjob is an ace clinician in her own psychotherapy practice. I put it out there as a throwaway line over dinner, but I could see she wasn’t going to let it pass, she leveled her eyes, “Flo you must honor your path, it is uniquely yours…” I stopped her, “…you mean in a George Bailey-way?” She said that’s one way, if you make a GB reverse inventory YOUR way, then yes.

      Internet readers and community workers are surrounded by high-accomplishment women — like Lisa, who wouldn’t want her intellectual gifts and her resume? I’d die for a quarter measure of either [well, not really, but I might :)]. Does Lisa’s extraordinary path diminish mine, well I think many women may nod, yes, I’m not Lisa so I’m less than.

      There’s the task.

      [Apologies for length. Lisa would be able to condense this into 3 sentences, oh how I envy her skills.]

    2. If I know anything at this point, it’s that really there’s no need to envy me. Every skill anyone has that’s at the high end of the spectrum has a related issue on the low end. Except probably singing, which I can’t do. This comment really made me think. I enjoy my word capabilities, but the only aspects of myself I’m really proud of are a) open-mindedness b) whatever kindness and courage I can muster up. And those can be had and shared by all. BTW, I feel a hug ought to go along with my response here, but, um, boo to emoticons…

  9. At 60 the next chapter of my life is more exciting than ever before. A turnkey lifestyle. I love thinking of what lies ahead!

    The Arts by Karena

  10. I’m more than half way through the 50’s and I’m still lost. Losing the daily role of being a mom was a blow I can’t seem to shake. I know many others feel the same. It’s been a tough transition so far. You’re always inspiring though, my friend. :)

  11. While age does not automatically confer wisdom, please, don’t assume “they already know this”, re life lessons. Some knowledge is not acquired in the head, or on the internet. The key for me is knowing when my experience is appreciated and when it comes across as lecturing, or even worse, boring reminiscence.

    One’s 50s and 60s are wonderful decades, provided health is good. That becomes ever more important and more of an uncertainty.

  12. I loved my 50s and now I’m into my 60s with enthusiasm. I will say this though–more medical issues in my 60s than in my 50s. Nothing huge, but just reminders that time is marching on.

    While it is tempting to give advice, I try not to do it, unless asked. And sometimes, I could used some advice myself! I have to say though, sometimes advice I have received from a 30 something doesn’t seem practical. Perhaps that MY issue and not fault in the advice.

  13. My adulthood feels shorter than yours, Lisa. I think it’s because I floundered around until my mid-30’s. I went through several of those throw-it-all-up-in-the-air-and-start-over changes prior to that, which I don’t regret as I must have needed to get it out of my system before knuckling down and building this life. It’s really taken me until now (I’m 56) to feel that I’m hitting my stride. Fingers crossed for continued good health…I’m looking forward to the next decades with a more solid sense of self and others.

  14. I do feel I’ve learned a few things, at 60, but I tend to be perhaps even more aware of how/why my advice might not be right. So much shifts. I think more and more of this inward look my father had in his last months, a look at knowledge gained but was only transmittable through direct experience. . . or at least, that’s how I translated the look, as he never articulated it. . .
    As well, having had my children relatively young, I’m having fun watching them (ages 28-37) do things just enough differently, but so impressively, and in a world of economic circumstances considerably different than mine was, that I hesitate even more to give advice. Although when they do want it, you’re right that it feels good knowing that I must have learned a few things along the way . . .

  15. you give me, edging out of the early 40’s into mid-40’s, hope and inspiration. Always with style, and inspiration. As for me, I’m a big one for the exclamation – oh my, has it really been X years?!

  16. Yay for role models! I think quite often you don’t even need to offer advice, as such, just go on being yourself and we younger women will watch and learn.

    I’m loving my job at the moment, partly because there are excellent women who are senior to me, very good at what they do and nice people too. That’s what I want to be like (Not the uber-bitch that some successful women channel).

  17. 30 years ago I was 25, searching for meaning in career, followed by family and career by 30, followed by a massively busy superwoman decade which left me feeling exhausted and guilty. I was a distracted mother to two young children and an impatient wife to my kind but boring (in my eyes then) husband. I flirted. I complained to girlfriends. I found my succor mainly in the workplace and realized my family might just blow up. So I retired in to sweet and safe full-time motherhood, grateful peremenopausal tears ever brewing, literally, as I finally allowed myself to enjoy my children guiltlessly for the first time since having them. I learned how to cook. I hiked on the mountain. I struck up a friendship with a glamourous Danish journalist and took off for Copenhagen every February and shopped the winter sales with her, wearing fur. But for much of my forties I was fearful, fearful of aging, of falling into an abyss of invisible middle age, of having squandered professional potential. I was so, so often preoccupied, worried about everything, despite having so much to be grateful for. And then life hurled some true challenges. My daughter was diagnosed with a serious chronic disease. My husband became depressed. My son faced his own existential crisis. The seven years between 46 and 53 were brutal as I watched my children suffer, then my husband. I grieved the loss of healthy children. I grieved the loss of my happy and optimistic self. But at last, grace arrived. At a certain point, I let go. I really, really, did. I stopped worrying about what I couldn’t control. And life began to flow around me again. My husband and I grew closer. My children left home and embarked on sure paths successfully. And after an 18 month stint in reentry work at a demanding start-up, I am now, at 55, back to myself. Happy and relieved. Thrilled to be done with menopause! Happy to no longer be nature’s plaything, ruled by romantic fantasies and impossible longings. Happy to no longer harbor the illusions of love and youth. Happy to love my husband, my friend, more deeply than ever, and to love my children as the great people they’ve become. I do something kind for someone else every day, grateful to walk on the mountain, grateful for all of my good fortune. Wisdom, yes. It is gratitude, it is letting go of unproductive worry.

  18. At 51, I feel very well qualified to give concrete advice to younger women – get your oil changed, go to the dentist regularly, it is NOT as easy to lose 10 pounds at 45 as it was at 25, buy a good set of tools and learn how to use them – but no way am I handing out life advice, lol.

  19. Thanks for noticing my writing, such as it is in that unedited post:) Yes, during the darkest of midlife days I penned 325 episodes of “Desperately Marin Housewife.” It’s not been published beyond Marinscope so I may finally do something with that project or begin a novel that is brewing in my heart and head. But since October 2012 I’ve been deeply unambitious, in recovery from the mad pace of my start-up experience, luxuriating in the freedoms I once took for granted, spending time with family and friends. It’s taken me an entire year to get even a little bit bored. Really loving your blog and it is indeed
    a privilege to contribute!

  20. Isn’t it nice to comfortably don a jester’s cap and not feel concerned about looking foolish? So much of my 20s/30s/even 40s was spent worrying about measuring up. Now I’ve put down the yardstick and feel free to wave encouragement to others along the way to making my own magic.

  21. Make it all count. Make every single thing count. At the age of 59 I discovered I had cancer––no symptoms except weight loss and exhaustion––when I went in for surgery I weighed ninety pounds fully dressed, shoes on and carrying a purse so cherish those extra fifteen pound you might be carrying! At age sixty-two I am cancer free, take pilates classes three days a week and weigh what I should. I enjoy everything––my partner, my kids, my friends and every single thing I do. I wear comfortable stylin clothes and cool shoes and eat chocolate every chance I get. I do NOT worry about things I cannot change. And every day I wake up and think how lucky can one person get?! So dive in and swim to the top.

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