Completing another decade of my life is sobering!
It seems natural to look back on the past ten years and take a reckoning.
At fifty I went through a dramatic midlife crisis where too many changes happened at once (but perhaps that is always the way). I tore my ACL, effectively putting an end to my competitive running career. My marriage was over, I was in a new relationship, and my son left Canada to go to university in Japan. I went back to school, completing a two-year professional writing course at Douglas College, and embarked upon a career as a freelance editor.
A decade later I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. I’m still running!—despite being told by my surgeon eight years ago that I could no longer run. I’ve done some fascinating editing projects during these years. And Keith continues to be my Rock.
Yet when I recall the first six months of 2019 and turning 60, the predominant words that come to mind are not positive ones. Over and over, I’ve been confronted with two feelings: tiredness and humility. How dare I write this in an age of relentless positivity, when we are assured that “sixty is the new fifty,” and “age is only a number”?
Yes, I hesitated about expressing some of the negative realities of aging. There is the physical deterioration. Also, there is the fear that it’s too late to change, to learn new things, and to accomplish lifelong goals. Sometimes this fear becomes so overwhelming it turns into panic!
It doesn’t help that my old arch-enemy, insomnia, too often strips me of my energy, optimism, and productive time.
How can I accept aging gracefully?
Although I think it’s crucial to acknowledge the difficulties of aging, that doesn’t mean my message here is one of despair. I believe that aging gracefully means having a total harmony between body, mind, and spirit. It is inevitable that everything will get worse physically, but this can be accepted with the cooperation of the mind and spirit. There needs to be a balance between accepting limitations and being willing to fight for what is possible!
I acknowledge the ways I haven’t yet found the elusive “total harmony” I seek, what I’ve called bodily and spiritual integrity in other posts. I’m not satisfied with what I’ve achieved so far as a writer and editor. In fact, for several months, I’ve been “blocked” in a difficult book project. This is probably contributing heavily to my mental anxiety and confusion.
Yet I agree with the cliché that every day is a new beginning. At any age, one can welcome learning, new experiences, and life’s unpredictability. For me, being open to the new, plus being thankful every day for what I already have, are the keys to filling myself with joy and energy.
It’s crucial to keep setting goals. This year I have found two new ways to challenge myself: I’ve found a new training partner (Laurie), and I’ve joined my local Toastmasters club.
Laurie and my fellow Toastmasters have inspired me and given me new energy and hope. At the same time, I’ve become more humble as I recognize the tremendous talent in others. I am comparing myself to people who set the bar very high—but that is the way to improve!
My running now
It’s a good thing Laurie reached out to me two months ago after returning from a three-year sailing trip. I had become somewhat discouraged about my running. In the past year or two, although I’m training as hard as I ever have since my second knee surgery in 2011, I’ve slowed down significantly.
Every year I race the Longest Day 5K at UBC. In 2018 I ran as hard as I possibly could, yet still ran an unexpectedly slow time of 21:02. This was only three years after running 19:19 in the same race! I wanted to do the race again this year, but with a change of attitude. For the first time ever, I gave myself permission to participate in a race without pushing myself all-out. I simply wasn’t motivated to endure that much pain for a mediocre result. Instead, I was racing to give myself a moderate challenge. More importantly, I was racing simply because I could. I wanted to feel the camaraderie and excitement of racing. It brought back the memories of all those intense emotions I experienced over decades of racing.
It turned out that I ran the first 3K feeling relatively relaxed, as planned. After that the old competitive spirit kicked in and I pushed hard in the last 2K to run 21:48.
This year, much more than last year, I’ve grown into an acceptance of where I am at physically. I run mainly for enjoyment now. I’ve realized that the key to acceptance is being grateful for what my body allows me to do—whatever the pace.
I’m grateful because in the past year, the health implications of aging have been stark. Two friends of mine have been treated for cancer. Both of them are younger than me. Other friends and acquaintances are suffering from various ailments and injuries, some of them life-threatening. Keith is battling with some serious health issues that worry me a lot.
I had a health scare of my own recently. It turned out to be nothing serious, but it showed me that all other troubles pale in the face of a health crisis.
Running with Laurie
I’ve been running with Laurie once a week for about two months now. Sometimes we’re joined by Laurie’s friend Lisa, another elite masters runner.
Laurie is a lifelong runner. Although she likes short sprints the best, she’s trained and competed at every distance right up to the half marathon. She has also coached all these distances as a certified Level 3 coach in both sprints & hurdles and distance running.
Despite working full time as a physiotherapist, Laurie finds time to run every day. She loves training with the Greyhounds club, which is well known for its many dedicated and talented masters sprinters.
Running with Laurie, I’ve realized how wonderful it is to train with someone who has a strong competitive drive. Laurie shares her energy and high spirits with me. It reminds me of past years when my Phoenix Running Club teammates used to give me that.
Because of Laurie’s work, we run together at 5:30 p.m. I always feel sluggish at that time; I can barely warm up. Yet once Laurie and I are sprinting together I’m amazed at what I can do! Our last workout was short but intense. After a good warmup, we did 6 all-out sprints, covering half of the Mundy Lake loop each time. We walked the other half slowly to recover. All I had to do was follow Laurie. It was exhilarating! She was so fast I couldn’t pass her until the end of the last one. We achieved our goal of going sub-1:00 on all of them—only possible because we were pushing each other.
I joined Toastmasters not because my work requires me to be an excellent public speaker, but rather to meet new people of diverse ages and occupations.
From the very first meeting I attended as a guest, I was bowled over by the welcoming nature of the Rocky Point Toastmasters club and the talents of their speakers. I didn’t expect the meeting to be so entertaining. This club includes many people who are clever, sophisticated humorists. Lacking this talent as a stand-up comedian myself, I particularly appreciate it in others.
The Toastmasters environment is supportive and generous. Evaluating fellow members’ speeches is done with sensitivity, with the goal of helping people improve their speaking and presentation skills.
As I’ve continued to attend the meetings regularly over the past five months, I’ve felt a paradoxical range of emotions. Foremost is humility. I am in awe of others’ outstanding speeches, their ability to engage with ease in one-on-one conversations, and their willingness to help others.
I’ve realized how far I need to go to become a better speaker. My manner in front of the group doesn’t feel natural. I struggle to keep within the time limits. I need to eliminate filler words (caused by nervousness) and hand-wringing. Also, although I’ve become better at networking and interacting with people in general, I still have lots of room for improvement in my social skills.
Listening to members’ speeches, or having good one-to-one conversations, I experience the intellectual stimulation and emotional connection that I seek. I’m also endlessly fascinated by the psychology of people. I’m always observing and analyzing my fellow Toastmasters; how they behave and speak in front of the group, with each other, and with me personally.
Yet the paradox is that I sometimes come away from meetings feeling inadequate and discouraged. Although I am one of the “mature” members I feel I am far behind others my age (or younger) in the club. How much can I catch up, how much can I improve? Is it too late?
Sometimes, too, I ask myself whether Toastmasters is just another distraction from my main goal, which is advancing my editing career. My new role as my club’s secretary means I am devoting a lot of time to Toastmasters (using editing skills, of course!).
I must remind myself that doing something new and challenging always provokes moments of doubt. Overall, I know being part of Rocky Point Toastmasters is a good decision. My involvement in running is minimal now, and in Toastmasters I have found my new supportive “tribe” of positive people who are focused on achievement, sharing, and having fun.