Sunday Tangent: SAPPORO SOURCE DEBITO column on Middle Age


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Hi Blog.  For Sunday, here’s my latest tangental column in Sapporo free paper SAPPORO SOURCE — on middle age and the insights that it provides.

Download the entire issue of SAPPORO SOURCE here in pdf format.  Cover, scanned page, and text of the article follows.  Arudou Debito in Calgary

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SAPPORO SOURCE Column 7, for publication in the January-February 2010 issue
By ARUDOU Debito

I turned 45 this month on January 13th. Now I can probably say my life is half over. With current average lifespans, I’ll be lucky to make it to age ninety. But this milestone occasions some thoughts about one’s “Middle Age”.

Middle Age enables one to look both forward and back — with the health and vim of a younger person, and the clarity of an elder. It’s like being on top of a hill: I can look behind at where I came from, and look ahead (with better focus than ever) at where I’ll probably be going.

Let’s reflect upon our adult experiences (admittedly, for people like us lucky enough to live in developed countries). In our reckless Twenties, many of us had no idea where we would be twenty years from now. Still, did it matter? We were finishing our educations, starting our careers, or even selecting partners to walk the course of life with. For many, however, it was too soon to “settle down”. Hey, we hadn’t even lived our first 10,000 days yet. What was the rush?

Then came our Thirties, and it was time to “grow up” and start considering some “investments”: What did we want to “do” with our lives? How could we convert a “job” into a “career”? Who really were our “good friends”? Who would we spend our leisure time with? And with our body clocks ticking, it was time to decide if we wanted to reproduce or not. This meant changing any relationship that had developed out of love, or habit, into legal ties. If and when children popped out, we had the responsibility of providing stability. Then we had to repeat the questions above.

But for me, for half a decade now, it’s been the Forties. Once we get more than halfway into our second set of 10,000 days, things tend to come into stark relief. Some people can see where their chosen paths will end, and wonder if they made the right decisions. Many experience a very real Midlife Crisis — as in, coming to terms (or not) with a fundamental question: “Is this all there is to life?” This is a time when people suddenly make wrenching decisions that stun onlookers: “Why would you work so hard for so long to get where you are now, and then give it all up?” The answer: They just weren’t happy with what they got.

The Forties are also in some ways an awkward age, particularly in Japan. We are not young enough to get away with some youthful excesses and mistakes. Yet we are not visibly old and grey enough to be entitled to filial piety, or coast along on the respect for the elderly found in Asian societies. And for many, our present salary is hardly munificent, especially up here in Hokkaido, making us wonder how we’ll ever afford our kids’ upcoming college tuition. Will our investments help them with their investments as they bud off?

Middle Age is also a midpoint in the aging process. Many realize that genes and life’s experiences have aged our peers quite differently. We can look at Facebook photos of high school friends we haven’t seen for decades, and see how they’ve turned out. Some are relatively unchanged, except for the extra kilograms or the cue-ball pate. Others have become exactly like their parents — fenced in, furrowed, domesticated, surrounded by their lusty studs and fillies. Some are, incredibly, even ready to become grandparents. (Myself, I come off looking like a Beat Poet with a full head of hair, for which I am grateful.)

Now looking forward, as the Fifties, Sixties, and Beyond (hopefully) loom, we had better recognize some limitations and make some personal pacts. For soon all of the things we took for granted — physical stamina, libido, corporal mobility and integrity, mental faculty, and the reckless optimism of youth — will be dimming if not going to seed.

Then pops up the “R-word” — “Retirement” — something many thought only old fogies worry about. But now it’s our turn. Many will have paid enough years into their pension plans and still wonder if they will get enough back to take care of themselves. And others will realize that their hopes and dreams, maybe even the thought of changing and improving the world, will quite possibly not come to fruition. So they either reconcile themselves to a quiet life, cultivating a hobby to keep their minds awake and bodies moving, or make themselves known as community leaders and volunteers, if not potential political candidates (representative democracy, after all, favors the older and experienced).

It is a luxury of this age to appreciate that every life stage has its benefits. But Middle Age in particular endows the self-aware with the knowledge of how to make adjustments to maximize self-worth and happiness. What makes you happy? And what will you do to achieve it before you die? If not now, when?

Of course, there are the nostalgic types, who hark back wistfully and say, “I wish I was, say, sixteen again.” Yes, reminiscing has its uses, but I believe it should not be a life view. I’m one of those (probably rare) people who rarely looks back, and when I do, I realize I have never been happier than now. From my current perspective as a 45-year-old, I consider that very lucky indeed.

Let’s hope my second — and third — 10,000 days occasion the same emotions when I look back. “Look back NOT in anger”, one can hope.

6 comments on “Sunday Tangent: SAPPORO SOURCE DEBITO column on Middle Age

  • Congratulations, Debito, you survived to 45! I have the Big-Five-Oh! heading my way in about six weeks or so, but I am quite serene about the whole affair. Thirty was a significantly bigger trauma for me.

    The summer I left Japan one of my colleagues made, tongue in cheek, (I thought just cheeky at the time!) a book recommendation to me. It is:

    ‘HOLLIS, James; “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life – How to Finally, Really Grow Up,” Gotham Books (Penguin), New York, 2005’

    (Cheap on Amazon, and probably cheaper in Costco or one of the bookstores in Alberta, where tax is lower than elsewhere, if my memory serve me correctly.)

    While the first half can be a bit of a struggle to get through it lays the structural foundations for the second half, which I found to have many “Yes!” and “Aha!” moments. It’s a secular book (not-churchianity and not-religiosity) yet has many solid spiritual insights. I won’t spoil the key part, the question the second half asks you to pose, after having provided most of the tools in the first with which to answer. And, of course, there is no right or wrong answer, only the one that you choose. Enjoy!

  • Nice essay. I enjoy reading such personal, honest, thoughts.

    Recently many people seem to enjoy arguing, “No, you’re wrong!”
    Especially blogs, we often become much ruder than face-to-face.
    Many of us have wasted too much of our energy debating each other.

    I wonder if anyone will try to be like that about this article. 😉
    Like, “If you do the math, 10,000 days is really blah-blah-blah.”

    I hope we can learn to focus more on the many points we agree on.
    For example, “Right on, I really feel you when you said…” 🙂
    Or, “I feel differently about 1 point, but overall I agree!”
    Or, “Here’s a link to a differing statistic, but great article.”

    Hmmm, and maybe we should limit comments to the original article.
    When we make comments on other people’s comments (like I am now)
    it starts a downward spiral of petty arguing, and then, unfortunately,
    we forget to discuss Debito’s main points, which are overall great!

    We all obviously love visiting Debito’s virtual living-room, right?
    Let’s become more positive, as if we were meeting in a real room. 🙂

  • Nice Article Debito

    You have accomplished much in 45 years and there is more to come. Having passed this milestone a few years ago I can understand how this is a time of reflection, perhaps even as much as the 1/2 century mark.

    The term, “fenced in, furrowed, domesticated” is a good depiction of many folks in developed countries. I have many friends like this who never have left the small town I grew up in and cannot understand why life has taken me (and my family) all over the world….this is something you and many others reading this blog probably can relate to. How do we answer the question, “What is it like living in (fill in the blank)?” when if you are like me you have spent nearly half your life overseas.

    Also contemplating how I am going to send my kids to University and what type of world they are going to be facing. My biggest concern has more to do with the latter.

    Your article takes on a more positive tone with this issue. Maybe we all need to take time to get out of our environment (especially during “milestones”) and reflect…maybe the trip to Canada?

    Just think what we can do with all the knowledge gained and our life experiences (both good and bad) resulting from 45 years (or more) of life!

    Yes we are getting older, but it does not mean we need to tame ourselves (I have a feeling the elite bankers and politicians of the world wish we would). I think it is a time we remain “wild and untamed”….with our vast life experience and knowledge and ability to see through bullshit…we will be dangerous creatures indeed to those that would rather oppress humanity to maintain their positions of power and the status quo.

    Oh what a world it could be if we can just remain untamed…..

    Great article

  • Debito, you’ve done a lot more than me in the “first half”, and that’s with you having one fewer days than me.

    In the end, it’s all good, isn’t it? Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha didn’t make it to 45. Look what happened to Kennedy. And the whole set of musicians and other notables that didn’t see 40, much less 35 or 30.

    Other than taking it as it comes, what can you do?

    — Rage, rage against the dying of the light?

  • We’re of a similar age Debito. You’ve certainly achieved a lot more than I ever have. Here’s to the next 45 years of all your great work!

  • Congratulations! We are almost of the same age (I need to wait a few more months) and living in Hokkaido. What bugs me with this age is clothes shopping. I look at other women of my age and I find that they all dress like grandmothers. So, I constantly find myself back in those shops I have been shopping for years but in those I now look like the grandma to the other shoppers. What to do? No…it’s not me, it’s them…Are they forcing me to look old just because they do? I will keep my healthy lifestyle, do my weight training every day and my body will look young and slim forever. I can always order my teenage clothes from the net….All the best to you and make sure you won’t do anything I wouldn’t do.


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