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Chapter 1 The Magical Milestone Birthday
Midlife is real. Nobody seems to know the exact age range it should cover, but everybody I know has a sense about when he or she is-or isn't-in the middle of what they perceive to be a normal life span. People seem intuitively to know when they are in their early years, when they are in their later years, and when they are someplace in between.
Midlife crises are also real. Again, nobody seems to know exactly when a midlife crisis normally hits. But everybody seems to know that there's an unseen moment when the light comes on and you say, consciously or unconsciously, Yikes, I'm not getting any younger!
The trigger point might be a little pain or stiffness that wasn't there before.
The trigger point might be a failure to do something that was once so easy.
The trigger point might be an "Oh, Dad" or "Oh, Mom" roll of the eyes after you say something that seems totally rational and normal from your perspective.
The trigger point might be the day a clerk asks if you qualify for a senior-citizen discount (and you thought that day was ten years away); or the time you hear yourself say, "Kids these days--" with an exasperated sigh; or the time you begin to remember with fondness the "good ol' days" when you were thirty-something.
The trigger point might be the wrinkles you see in the mirror, the gray hair that suddenly seems to be multiplying, or the nagging thought that you probably should go see a doctor more frequently, but have less and less desire to do so out of fear that something bad might be discovered.
The trigger point can be any one of a number of physical or emotionalcues that are unique to each person.
The "crisis" is, in part, a facing of one's own mortality. The crisis also occurs, in part, because the person recognizes that there are still things he or she wants to do, accomplish, or experience. Stop and think about it--if you've done or are in the process of doing everything you dream of doing, and are as happy as you want to be, there's no real sense of crisis! The crisis can be a slight moment of panic or a major period of panic--either of which is rooted in an unhappy, unfulfilled feeling.
The crisis often prompts a person to make an attempt to regain, recapture, or re-exert some sense of control over his destiny, or some sense of control over his "happiness level." Not every person openly acknowledges or even recognizes that a crisis is occurring--some people just have a nagging, persistent feeling deep within that if the time is ever going to be right to make a move or make a change, that time is now.
Reactions to a midlife crisis vary, of course. I'm in the total-fitness business and I've seen some people go off the deep end.Some people go a step or two beyond crazy and immediately try to dress and act twenty years younger. I put emphasis on try because they rarely succeed. The clothes of the younger generation look a little silly on them, their hair dye is never quite color-perfect, the "teen" phrases coming out of their mouths sound very odd, and their behavior at the "in places" is usually regarded by the younger set as both obvious and bizarre.
I have nothing against motorcycles or skydiving, but if the purpose is to prove that a person is still young, the end result is more likely to be raised eyebrows than sincere applause.
At the other end of the midlife crisis spectrum are those who plop themselves down to await the arrival of the grim reaper. In doing so, they begin to act and think much older than their years. They curl up in an overstuffed recliner before inane television programs and gorge themselves on fast-food specials. They stop taking risks of any kind and cease to foster their own curiosity or sense of adventure. They conclude that they've "been there, done that" about virtually everything fun or meaningful in life.
And in truth, the more they harden themselves into "thinking" like an old person, the sooner they bring about their own demise-perhaps not necessarily their own death, but with certainty, their own decline in productivity, creativity, and sense of purpose. They stop moving, thinking, feeling, creating, growing, and changing--and in the end, they just plain stop and the grass begins to grow high around them.
There are a host of reactions to midlife that fall someplace between "trying too hard to be young" and "unwittingly falling into acting too old." Most of the reactions are just plain stupid because they are totally unnecessary and counterproductive to a joyful life. A few reactions are legitimate and productive.
This book focuses on the positive and beneficial reactions to midlife that can turn a crisis moment into a creative, compelling moment of change and growth.
Your Magical Milestone Birthday
I'm not sure which birthday it is for you, but you either have had or will have what I call a "magical milestone birthday." It is the birthday when you say, "I can't believe I'm this age."
For some that age is thirty. For some it is fifty. For some it is eighty. For lots of people the magical milestone birthday is forty, and that's why this book addresses living a Totally Fit Life after the age of forty. There's something about the age of forty that seems to mark a passing from youth. A friend of mine said not too long ago, "I knew I was in midlife when I noticed that I was helping to plan an all-day church picnic and I was calling people twenty years younger than me 'the young people' and people twenty years older than me 'the older set.'" Her mind-set covered forty years.
In the Bible, a generation is considered to be forty years in length. Perhaps people intuitively feel that when they hit forty, they move into the "older generation"--the one previously occupied by their parents.
As we were discussing this concept of a forty year mark, another friend said: "I never really felt any different when I hit forty, but I did notice that other people started to pay more attention to my opinions when I spoke up at meetings. I was taken more seriously after I turned forty. My father told me that when he turned eighty, he suddenly was treated with greater respect. He could get away with a lot of things that people wouldn't tolerate when he was sixty or seventy.
"There probably is something to this forty-year thing. People seem to be envied when they are under forty, taken seriously when they are forty to eighty, and respected after eighty. Maybe the concept of forty is only in our minds more than in the minds of others, but it's there!"
I don't have any doubt about it.
If the year isn't exactly forty for you, then name your year. There's one birthday that you'll see as a threshold or a "line in the sand" that you are about to cross.
The question is, How do you cross that line? Do you go crazy, or go comatose?
I like the concept "captivate."
Choose to Captivate
The original definition of the word captivate means to take something captive, and then to hold on to that something by irresistibly positive and pleasing means.
Rather than be taken captive by the passing of years, choose to recapture your life and future! Choose to take captive the moments of each day, and the days of each year. Choose to hold on to your own sense of identity by making positive decisions and taking positive action. Choose to fulfill your purpose for living in a way that gives you maximum satisfaction and joy.
If you need to reinvent yourself to find fulfillment, do so in a way that is healthful and helpful not only to you, but also to others around you.
If you need to refocus your goals toward a new and higher purpose, do so with wise counsel.
If you need to resculpt your out-of-shape body for greater health, do so with good eating, good exercising, and good coaching.
If you need to reinvigorate relationships that have fallen into a rut, do so with enthusiasm and love.
If you need to re-establish or renew your faith--do so.
If you need to refocus or readjust your schedule, expenditures of time and money, or material possessions to achieve something that is in line with your highest values and beliefs, do so.
Captivate! Grab hold of your life. In some cases, you'll be putting on the brakes;
in others, you'll be pressing down on the accelerator. In some cases, you'll be getting in gear; in other cases moving to a higher gear. In some cases you'll be steering your life in a new direction, and in some cases slowing down to enjoy the scenery.
The captivate process is slightly different for each person, but the end goal is the same--a life that is more balanced, enjoyable, and fulfilling.
Longer Life or Higher Quality?
I'm not at all certain that we can make changes that will impact the number of years we live. It may be possible to extend one's life. It may also be possible that the number of our days is fixed in a supernatural, mysterious way we don't fully understand. What I am certain about is this: we can impact the quality of life we enjoy, both now and in the future.
Every person I have ever met can make decisions that have a high probability of producing more energy, vitality, and health in the future.
A person can make decisions that hold the potential for increased fulfillment and purpose.
A person can make choices that result in greater integrity, deeper character, and an even more positive reputation and legacy.
A person can make decisions that promote deeper relationships and more influence for good in any given family, group, community, society, or the world as a whole.
You may not be able to add years to your life, but you most certainly can add life to your years.
I am a Christian but I realize that not everybody who reads this book will share my belief in Jesus Christ as Savior or desire as I do to follow Him as my Lord. I am putting some information in these sections (set apart by asterisks) that are optional, and related directly to my faith. If you don't read these segments, you won't miss the main points of my message. If you are a Christian, you may get an "extra blessing" by reading these segments.
When it comes to the quality of a person's life, I strongly believe that Christians have a tremendous mandate to be "whole." And that means pursuing the highest level of health and the highest purpose for life possible so they might be the most effective witnesses for Christ, for as long as possible. King David asked the Lord in one of his psalms: "How can I praise you if I am killed and tossed into the pit? Will my dust praise You?" (See Psalm 30:9, author's paraphrase.)
My paraphrase of his questions might be: "What good am I to the Lord if I'm sitting in a wheelchair in a nursing home with my mind half gone and no energy to lift my head?" I personally choose to stay as totally fit as possible so I might be active and productive for as long as possible, and in the process influence as many people as possible for Jesus Christ.
It is only when I know that I have fully done my part in staying as healthy, strong, productive, and spiritually alive as possible that God will be faithful in doing His part to use my words and my works for His purposes.
There is a tremendous opportunity that awaits you as you cross a magical milestone birthday. Choose to take captive every thought, every word, and every deed that might add life to your years. A great deal of healthy, purposeful, important living can occur after that birthday comes and goes.