This is my first day back in my home office since I left on my Vancouver trip last week. In the meantime, something unpleasant happened to me: some kind of nasty, lingering stomach virus that has left me wanting to do nothing more than just sleep. Getting sick is one of life's most unpleasant experiences; although, from time to time it happens to us all. Once we approach midlife, however, life's annoyances seem to take on a much more sinister air: we can't help wondering if each downturn may not be just another harbinger of worse things to come.
Don't you need to be concerned about such things? Doesn't life get that much more difficult once you've begun that midlife transition? Aren't you headed ‘over the hill'? Shouldn't you be out shopping for a nursing home and a casket? The good news is that you only need to be composing your eulogy if you get particular enjoyment out of doing these things. There are, indeed, many things that you could worry about: including health care, finances, retirement options, and so on; but these are things that you should have been concerned with all along! Nothing has changed!
First, let's consider planning at midlife. As soon as you start a new job, what should your first concern be? Think about this for a few minutes before you read on. Take your time - don't look ahead. Are you ready for the answer? If you said, “Plan your exit strategy, " you'd be correct. In this universe, the only absolute is change, and the only response to change is to plan for it. Whether any of your involvements will be your ultimate one, only God can tell. In the meantime, you would do best to look on each involvement as temporary. Wouldn't you be reckless to take on any temporary position and not consider what was to come next?
When you embark on any reasonable plan, one of the most important elements involves a comprehensive risk assessment. A well-engineered risk assessment forms the cornerstone of any successful plan, and yet, this element is too often done superficially or even neglected entirely. Yet, a risk assessment involves the estimation of only two factors: probability and severity. That means that there are only two questions that you need to ask about any eventuality:
1) ‘How great an impact will this have on my plans?’ (the severity) and
2) ‘How likely is it that this event will actually occur in the foreseeable future?’ (the probability).
But, aren't these already the two questions you ask yourself, day in and day out? ‘What effect will rain have my plans?’ you ask yourself, ‘and how likely is it that it will rain?'
Of course, every day that we live (and the passage through the midlife transition in particular) means that the probability of some serious event's occurrence grows. Isn't it obvious that, every day you life is one day closer to the day you'll die? You don't need any actuarial tables to prove to you that the longer you avoid any problem, the higher the probability that you'll have to face that problem. It's simply a fact of life. On the other hand, should it be a cause for panic? Hardly. It is what it is. On the other hand, it should indeed be a cause for concern if you've been avoiding taking life's risks seriously and not only planning for them, but doing something about them.
Slowing down at midlife isn't a tragedy; it's a predictable (and manageable) fact of life. You might even say that your decline begins around age 15 when growth stops and maturity begins. Should children be dreading hitting 16? Hardly. So why should you be dreading hitting 40, or 50, or 60? It's very true that you won't be the same then as you are now, but why should you expect to be? Life is all about change. Just because you're ‘slowing down’ and some eventualities are becoming more probable than they once were doesn't mean that your quality of life should therefore be decreasing. On the contrary, if you've been careful in your planning, and taken care with your lifetime risk assessments, your general quality of life should continue increasing indefinitely.
Could you lose all your savings? Yes. Could you get sick or have an accident and be incapacitated? Certainly. Could you die? Of course. But then, any one (or all) of these things could happen to you in the next ten minutes. The point is, that it's all a matter of probability. Just because things become more probable over time doesn't mean that they're any more certain to occur now as compared with fifty years from now. You never know. What I can assure you is that, as you carefully and successfully navigate your own personal midlife transition, your capacity for achieving success at a level you've only previously imagined (a success that most likely bears little resemblance to how you first conceived it) grows exponentially.
There's no more reason to dread midlife than there is to fear tomorrow. In fact, you've every reason in the world to look forward to it with anticipation. Midlife really is just the beginning.
H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
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