Although there are many variations of experiences, I think it’s fair to say that, as humans, we live our lives in similar stages, each one with its own blessings and curses.
From birth to age 10, the childhood stage, in many ways is the most carefree of all. With loving parenting, every need is looked after and real concerns are few. Who doesn’t marvel at the curiosity, speed of learning and sheer joy of life of children?
It is the calm before the storm.
The teen years, from 10 to 20, are perhaps the stormiest of all stages. The transition from that carefree childhood to the responsibilities of adulthood, in combination with a lot of interpersonal and intrapersonal angst, is, in my opinion, the time of life when we are most at risk for going off the rails and carrying problems with us forever.
It is also the time when the development of personal passions can take us down an educational and career path that will make our future lives rich.
The decade of the 20s is generally a time when we establish ourselves in our careers and in our social and marital relationships. Generally, it is a busy time of personal growth and the development of a clear focus on the priorities of life. With luck, we find the perfect job, career path and partner for life.
We next travel through the decades of 30s and 40s, where that career and family life we aspired to in our 20s comes to fruition. It’s a busy time of ambition, parenting and financial consumption. The challenge is balance, as the often conflicting demands of work and home stretch the best intentioned family to the max.
Add together the demands of work to the parenting of that second decade of angst-riddled children and you have a formula for high octane action.
The 50s decade tends to be one of reflection, with some folks having that mid-life crisis that comes with realizing the dreams of their 20s became the nightmare of their 30s and 40s. It is a decade when decisions about retirement plans become more solidified, perhaps choosing an earlier movement in that direction if unhappy, or a decision to prolong a working life if it is rewarding.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of this decade is the sandwich position many find themselves in with still-dependent children and newly dependent parents tugging at their time, attention and financial resources.
Assuming good health and more flexible time, if not outright retirement, I think most people see their 60s as the second childhood. It is a time when we can return to a little self-indulgent ‘play’ of doing what we want when we want to do it. Where this was, historically, a time of risk for heart disease, new medical technologies have removed much of this risk and, thus, many people are healthier and more stress-free than they have been for some time.
The 70s become the age of uncertainty when it comes to health. The average lifespan for men of 78 is, by definition, a sign of the risks associated with both heart disease and cancer.
Many will cruise through this decade worry-free, while others will find themselves engaged in continuous medical issues that will limit their quality of life.
The 80s are simply the 70s’ risk on steroids. Energy levels drop dramatically and health problems tend to come in bunches, not isolated incidents. It’s a time to count the blessings of a life gone by and focus on the blessings of each day that is healthy or in which you are engaged with friends and family.
Beyond the 80s, perhaps we can view each day/month/year as a bonus, particularly if good health persists. I’ve certainly met some hundred-year-olds with more energy and joi de vivre than some 40-year-olds, so there is no absolute relationship between age and quality of life.
Regardless of what stage we happen to be in, the bottom line is we have to take care of ourselves and live each day to its fullest. That attitude has no age limitations.
Graham Hookey is an educational and parenting writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.