I don’t know if it’s my chronological age, or the particular sort of challenges I’ve faced the past year or two, but for whatever reason: lately, I seem to be having a lot of conversations about “getting old” with peers close to my own age. Full disclosure: these conversations were happening even before I got carded a couple of weeks ago at a bar (rare but not totally out of the realm of normal if they’re following the under-forty rule) and told, “You look good for your age.” I mean, really.
Now, okay. There was a collective eye-roll from the over-forty, over-fifty, over-sixty, over-seventy sets. Hopefully, even though you also have your own “getting old” moments, you can remember what it was like when you first found yourselves having them, and the realization that you were embarking on a new frontier.
So, here I am at thirty-seven-and-a-bit. Not old by any objective measure, but it’s certainly evident that I’m not 25 anymore. Or even 31. I have this new awareness of my limited amount of energy and fucks to give.
For example: when I was in my twenties, I basically just assumed that it was having kids that slowed people down. Not that I was thinking about having my own, but it was people without kids who weren’t able to go out for drinks or a late dinner or who lost interest in this vibrant social life I’d always had from living in cities. Now, as I’ve slowed down and don’t have kids, I realize that—gasp—maybe it’s changing priorities and a different attitude about what I want to do with my time. Things that are internal to me and have happened over time and have nothing to do with kids. It’s also being better at self-awareness and not giving a fuck that I’m an introvert and I start to feel terrible if I spend a lot of time in crowded bars, trying to have a conversation with friends but mostly staring at them over a drink because it’s too loud to hear and because they’re bouncing around and not in one place long enough to have a meaningful conversation.
As I write this, the “well, duh” aspect of this does not escape me. I’m sure that particular example shows the naiveté of youth rather than the wisdom of age. But, thinking back to my twenties, it wasn’t so much that I was naive, it was that I never really reached the bounds of my energy. I had what seemed like an unlimited supply of eggs and all these baskets to put them in. If I found a new basket, I’d have some eggs on hand to add to it. Lots of eggs in a grad school basket? Yes, of course. Oh, more eggs lying around for the friends and family basket? Great! Hey, look at this running basket, it’s empty, but I have enough eggs not just to run every day but to run marathons! I want to volunteer—oh look, more eggs and another basket!
What I want to know is, where did all those eggs go?
Those eggs, that is my energy. It seems like it takes more eggs to do something, and there are fewer eggs just lying around waiting to be used. No, if I want to find eggs, it usually means I have to take from another basket. I needed more eggs for my work basket last year, and they had to come out of the running and friends and relationships baskets. Sometimes, when I’m particularly well-rested and have been doing all the things that help me stay mentally healthy, I find another egg or two.
Those baskets, those are my fucks to give. The places I want to spend my energy eggs. I purposely don’t say they are my things to do or my interests or whatever. Because there are a lot of empty baskets lying around of things I’m very much interested in or even things I “have to” do. That has been Getting Older Realization #456: I don’t have to care about all the things.
Realization #457: It doesn’t take more eggs in each basket because it takes more energy to add to the basket. It takes more eggs in each basket because I’m trying to do them well, to do them with intention and clarity, not just do them because the basket is empty.
So, some baskets stand empty. Baskets I’m not willing to throw away because when I get some more eggs, they are still baskets I might use someday. And some baskets have appeared over time, displacing some of the old ones.
Realization #458: There is a basket for “getting more eggs,” and it takes eggs to get eggs. There is no chicken, I have to make those damn things myself.
Realization #459: The baskets shape-shift. The basket I thought was one thing turns into something else. Was it ever really a “running” basket, or was it a “move my body and be healthy” basket, and running is the manifestation? Was it ever really a “racing” basket, or was it a “challenge body and mind” basket that is now being filled with writing eggs?
So now, I guard my eggs, I’m more deliberate with where they’re going and exactly how many I need for each basket—no more, no less. I’m also more choosy about which baskets deserve my eggs and know that, just because a basket is there, or just because someone else has a full basket, doesn’t mean I need to put my eggs there.
Sick of eggs and baskets yet? I’m kind of sick of writing those words. I’ll end with this: Being deliberate and understanding the limitations of my eggs and baskets doesn’t make me feel hopeless or depressed. It makes me feel in control, empowered. No longer am I haphazardly throwing eggs around, breaking them in my attempt to find fulfillment in filling all the baskets. Now, fulfillment comes when I appreciate the work it takes to get the eggs, fill the basket, and sit back for just a second to smile at the lovely work I’ve done.