Firstly I have to say that I’m no expert on life and living. I know I have travelled a long way and had lots of ups and downs, but my trek along life’s twisting path was mostly one of trial and error – I got some things right but it was usually at the second or third attempt.
One thing I have discovered is that there are four stages of a man’s life and they are each so different that they are really separate lives in themselves. I think this cute little metaphor sums them up very well.
A very rich old man once said: “I’d give all of my wealth for one year of my youth.” I think that is a sentiment most people in the twilight of their lives would feel and subscribe to. I certainly would. Of course the sad part is that it can never happen and we just have to live on with the bitter/sweet memories of our youth and childhood.
I have heard youth described as a stage when you are ‘young, dumb and full of impulses,’ when you think with your heart and not with your head. Yes, I would agree with that. In my youth we were no different than any other generation. We were reckless risk-takers, never considered our actions and just soaked up as much excitement and adventure as we could find without any thought for the dangers or consequences of our thrill-seeking.
We thought we knew everything when we really knew nothing at all. We had little or no respect for authority, were blinkered by ignorance and stupidity, and our only ambition was to grow up as fast as we could and proceed to fix the world. We couldn’t wait to move on and now we would dearly love to move back. Forget it folks – we’re not going there.
Having survived the wild recklessness of youth you are now struggling ahead through your twenties and thirties. Your eyes are being opened by the reality that there is a lot more to life than you thought. You begin to wonder how you could have been so dumb and stupid during your youth, it dawns on you that this world is no picnic, and you nostalgically pine for those glorious years of fun and excitement now nothing more than a distant memory.
Sara Teasdale, that much loved American lyric poet put it so beautifully:
When I can look life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the truth,
And taken in exchange – my youth.
Early adult is a stage when you build a structure to your life and have come to appreciate and respect authority. You are determined to cut out those silly mistakes and you start thinking with your head instead of your heart. If you’re lucky you’ll find a good partner to share the new burden of life, to create a family, keep your mind on the important things and keep you out of harm’s way. You are now a real man with ambition and responsibility; you can’t risk failure so you just have to work hard and smart if you are to accomplish your goals. You are learning fast, figuring things out and gradually getting results.
You really enjoy the feeling of enlightenment and achievement and you are rapidly gaining confidence and self-esteem. You are firmly focused on the future but you are still a student in the ‘University of Life,’ and your goal is to be a complete man and fulfil your destiny.
The third stage of a man’s life is the reflective stage because this is where you come to terms with what you have and haven’t accomplished in life. You accept your shortcomings and failures, and enjoy your accomplishments and you’re now happy to pass your wisdom and life experience on to others. Your family are grown up, well educated and in good careers. You have welcomed your first grandson and bask in the knowledge that you now have an heir and your legacy is preserved for future generations. You are now a wise man with a vast reservoir of knowledge, having learned and mastered all the important lessons of life, you know what makes sense – and what doesn’t, you have no time for fools and you understand how everything in life works. Best of all, you’re very careful with your words, weighing up every situation, so that when you speak, everyone listens. You are now a respected senior citizen, your opinions are valued and your self-esteem is at its peak. You don’t take risks anymore. Sure why would you with your fortune made and your legacy secured for posterity.
I know that my age says I am now in this fourth stage of life but I still feel I’m really in the third stage. I have perfect health of mind and body, with no pains or aches, sharp as a bee, rising each morning at dawn and enjoying every minute of my day. When I look in the mirror, instead of seeing an old doddery senile cripple, I see a vibrant, energetic fellow, happy and content, ready to embrace whatever the day brings, the mystery and opportunity, the beauty and adventure, and I’m happy in the knowledge that I am fully alive to it all. My age never bothers me – it’s only a date on the calendar – and I look forward to a healthy and exciting life for many years to come. (If all that sounds like a large dollop of smugness and pomposity, it probably is and I apologise, but what can I do – it’s one of my chronic afflictions.)
Seriously though, the fourth stage in a man’s life is a sad stage because you start to regress. You can’t advance; you can’t become wiser, so you can only go backwards and get stupid again. You are the perfect example of the old saying: “Once a man – twice a child.” Despite your wisdom, despite your experience and what you’ve accomplished, the feeling is that your views and your understanding of the ways of the world have become outdated. You become irrelevant and you can’t suffer it because you were once so highly intelligent and respected. So you become cantankerous and start moaning about it. You become frustrated, impatient and irrational, “no one shows me respect anymore.” But you’re not done yet.
Don’t throw me on the scrap heap
Just because I’m old.
I still have talent and skills to offer,
If I may be so bold.
My talent is called multi tasking,
Or so I’ve been led to believe.
I can simultaneously wet myself,
Laugh, cough, fart and sneeze.
No. That’s definitely not me. I just included it to remind myself that if I’m not careful, it could be me. No. I’m not going there – at least not for a long time yet.
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