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A New Phase of Life and the Gifts of Time

Some reflections on the bittersweet nature of getting older.

Ashley Janssen
Ashley Janssen
8 min read
A New Phase of Life and the Gifts of Time
(Photo by Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash)

Recently my husband, Dana, mentioned feeling like he shifted from a young man to middle age (he used the words “old man”) over Covid. He said that it felt like middle age snuck up on him without the usual social interactions and events to mark the passage of time.

I laughed and noted that if he is now an old man, then I am an old lady since both of our 38th birthdays are in a few weeks. But the more I reflected on our conversation, the more I noticed the markers in our lives that have shifted us into a different phase. Some of these markers are things I lament as I come to terms with not being “young” anymore, while others are worth celebrating and feel like a gift.

This reflection on where I am in my life, solidly entering middle age, and the nature of aging made me think about how bittersweet it is to get older. The following are some of those reflections.

(Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash)

Getting old isn't for the faint of heart

In the words of actress Mae West, who lived to be 87, “Getting old isn't for the faint of heart”. Some days I feel that pretty hard, even at the ripe old age of my current 37. (I realize all of you who are over 37 reading this are already thinking that I don’t even know the half of it. It’s all relative! 😁)

You might relate to some of these examples of aging experiences that I have these days (that I definitely did not have in my 20s):

  • Sleep-related injuries, wherein I sleep in a less than optimal position and I can barely move when I wake up.
  • Having to make sure I stretch and cool down for a significant amount of time pre and post-exercise unless I want to be hobbling within a few hours.
  • The 2 to 3 days of recovery time I require if I stay up too late (past 11:00 pm), in part because my body wakes up at 6:45 am like clockwork regardless of the time I went to bed. There was a time, long ago, when I could sleep until noon but those days are long past.
  • The alarming amount of money I have spent at Sephora on different eye and face creams to combat crow's feet...I mean smile lines.
  • Being able to handle far fewer commitments each day and week than I used to. I have always been an introvert but now, whew, I am edging into hermit-level interaction requirements.
  • Realizing that I am at the age where some of my friends' kids are old enough to drive me and my husband home after an evening of dinner and drinks with their parents.
  • My hairdresser asking me every time I get my hair done if we need to cover grey (NOT YET THANK YOU VERY MUCH).
  • Feeling a little flattered on the fewer and fewer occasions that I get ID’d.

None of these are particularly bad, just definite shifts in the things I have to think about and how my body feels if I don’t pay attention!

I don’t identify as “young” anymore

From a professional perspective, a large part of how I identified as an entrepreneur used to be being “young”. Dana and I were 25 when we became business partners, with him starting his freelance business a few years prior. For a long time, we were the youngest people in many professional settings and it was something I was a little proud of.

Being young actually used to be one of the challenges I had to overcome in sales meetings (compounded with being a woman in tech) to convince potential clients that I was competent and our business was legitimate.  

Now, I am asked to speak about my life and experiences and I am part of mentorship teams for entrepreneurs that have birthdays in the early 2000s. My consulting practice is based on my 13 years of entrepreneurship and life experiences. 😳

Even now, I still have meetings that I finish and think to myself, “I KNOW THINGS”, after so many years of feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong, the feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing always returns, but I also know SOME things, on occasion. 😉

I guess knowing a thing or two is the tradeoff of not being young anymore!

(Photo by Donald Wu on Unsplash)

The many gifts of time

Truthfully, I think about my own time and where I spend it often.

My health situation with Multiple Sclerosis, though stable now, is a regular reminder of how things can (and will) change for me in ways I can’t predict. I try very hard to be present and not let that uncertainty cloud my experiences. I try to remember that no one’s future is certain. While I likely have some hard things coming my way down the line, every day I get to enjoy is a gift, and I get to enjoy most days.

It’s not about living each day as if it were my last kind of thing, which is unrealistic, but I do think it’s important to bring myself back over and over to the small joys of each day. It takes effort but is one of the reasons why daily reflection is so important to me.

Some of my regular joys are things like:

  • My cat Penny sitting on my lap while I write this newsletter.
  • Saturday morning pancakes followed by video games snuggled on the couch with my husband.
  • Watching a show in tandem with my sister-in-law on Wednesday nights while we exclaim to each other over WhatsApp.
  • Bi-weekly wine night with my entrepreneur friends where we share the ups and downs of our lives.
  • The feeling I get after a consulting session with one of my clients where I know they are in a better place than when we started.
  • Going for a run in the sunshine.
  • Sitting in my tiny yard with my myriad of flower pots with a good book.
  • …and too many more joys to list.

After everything I went through with Dana’s cancer, family losses, and now with my Multiple Sclerosis, I can’t help but have a deep appreciation for these moments and experiences.

Each day, even as I diligently cover my under-eye circles and stretch my perpetually sore back, I remind myself that it is a gift that I even get to get older…because not everyone does.

Appreciating all the ways I have grown

Beyond the daily joys, as I think about who I was in my early 20s and who I am now, there are so many ways I have grown. I know that I am better for all the years of experiences and bumps (and occasional mountains) along the way.

  • I know and understand myself so much better. It took a long time to feel more secure in who I am and what’s important to me.
  • I like who I have become (most of the time) and am kinder to myself (though this is always a work in progress).
  • Dana and I are coming up on 20 years since our first date (which simultaneously makes me feel ancient but also ridiculously fortunate). At 18, I found the love of my life and have had the immense privilege of navigating all this time, hand-in-hand with my best friend. We have had so many adventures together and I am grateful for every day I get with him.
  • I have travelled to over 45 cities across 12 countries.
  • I have experienced (and am still experiencing) the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and all the exciting and strange twists and turns that come with it.
  • I have been able to watch my nieces and nephews grow up into little humans with their own personalities and interests.
  • I have both kept and gained some incredible friendships, with incredible people, who are a privilege to have in my life.
  • I have a lovely home where I get to spend every day with my husband and kitty, building our businesses and doing what we enjoy most…being together.

I look back at all the things I have seen and done, all the things I have, and all the people I have met along the way,  and I don’t have the words to describe how grateful I am.

(Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash)

Learning not to wait

Even with all of this gratitude and awareness I try to cultivate, I am sometimes guilty of waiting. Waiting for the workday to be over. Waiting for the weekend. Waiting for something in the future that I am excited about.

The problem with waiting is that it takes away from now because you get caught up in thinking about later, instead of enjoying now. This quote from my favourite author, from my favourite book, summarizes it nicely:

“So the day became one of waiting, which was, he knew, a sin: moments were to be experienced; waiting was a sin against both the time that was still to come and the moments one was currently disregarding. ”

- Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

As I age, and the people around me age too, I try to remember: this is it. This is all the time we get, and it keeps passing, so I better use it while I’m here. I try to remember to not wait (or worry) for what is to come but to enjoy and appreciate what is. I try to remember not to defer my life to some later time when I can really enjoy it.

Being present is a constant battle for me but one I know is worth waging.

Think about your phase of life and the gifts that come with it

As I sit and write this, the sun is shining on my new little writing desk. The snow is melting outside (at least for now) and I have a cat purring on my lap. My coffee is hot and I am going to break to do my daily workout soon. It’s a normal, unremarkable day in late spring. But at this moment, I feel pretty damn lucky to be here.

Nearly every day I work with people to help them think about their time and approach it in different ways. The mental shifts to think about time in new ways are hard. The day-to-day demands of life can become all-encompassing and being intentional with your time takes significant effort.

But time passes regardless of what you do.

The only thing you can do is make the best of the time you have, in your circumstances. The only way to do that is to be intentional about what you give your time, and perhaps even more important, your attention.

Wherever you are in your phase of life, I encourage you to reflect back and think about where you have been and how far you have come. What are the gifts that you have gotten as you got older? What are the gifts you are still getting?


Do you have a question or topic you are interested in hearing more about? Tell me about it!

ReflectionResilience
Ashley Janssen

Ashley Janssen

Productivity consultant, writer, speaker, serial entrepreneur, chaos calmer, introvert, cat-lady. Lover of books, fitness, old fashioned’s, basketball, and video games.

Follow me on Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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