Well, today I turn 60, so I shall indulge myself more than usual and wax philosophical.
Everyone tells me that 60 is a real milestone. Whoopee shit.
I can distinctly recall my early-teens self thinking forward to the year 2000, and realizing how impossibly old I’d be then. But imagining myself past that point was pretty much impossible … it was just too far away, and beyond understanding. And now here I am.
I can honestly say that the so-called milestone birthdays never really bothered me at all. Hitting 28 was a bit of a shock, but only because I realized that I wasn’t a kid any more and needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Aside from that birthday, none really felt like a special milestone in life.
But hitting 60 is kind of hitting me between the eyes. In my early 50’s I realized that my body was truly starting to wear out in strange and disturbing ways, and no amount of wishful thinking was going to gloss over that fact. Nothing too serious, but I just couldn’t abuse my body like I used to … it simply didn’t bounce back like it should. Despite that I still could think about “the future” and “career path” and hope for better times. But it soon became obvious that old (ie. over 30 or 40) programmers don’t have career paths or career prospects, just jobs (if they’re lucky). And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since non-work activities often become more important in our lives.
One of the people that I follow on Twitter, Brian Marick @marick, put it nicely when he declared that we need to start managing our decline. He was talking about old programmers (of which I am one), but I think it has a more general application. He complained about feeling disconnected from the zeitgeist. Hell, I’ve never felt all that connected to any zeitgeist, so that’s not bothering me too much. Maybe it’s simply that, as I jokingly tell my friends, I’ve become the person that I used to mock.
On the plus side, my health isn’t too bad … no major breakdowns, at least. And I’ve finally got a vague clue of how things work – better late than never, I suppose.
On the downer side, it’s all too easy to dwell (or even obsess) on the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” stuff. Worry about the bridges burnt and the ones never crossed. Lots of that to go around. Not to mention the aches and pains of a body that is well past it’s best-before date. Or maybe worry about the lack of career opportunities … or even jobs, if it comes to that. And you get to watch the young ones, who can’t be bothered to listen to you or anyone else, repeat the same old mistakes (often more than once).
But all in all, life ain’t too bad. Sure things could be better, but they could be a whole lot worse, too. The trick, I think, is not to dwell too much on past mistakes or triumphs. What happened in the past belongs in the past. Our struggles to create our future define us as much more than our pasts do.
I’ve always enjoyed Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”, and the last verse has always stirred my soul. More so as I’ve gotten older :
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.