As a parent, I spent a good amount of time longing or planning for the next phase: when they sleep through the night, when they are potty trained, when they are in school, when they are driving, when they leave for college.
As an adult, I spent a good amount of time longing or planning for my next phase: when I finish college, when I finish graduate school, when I get married, when I buy a house, when I start a family, when I get tenure, when I retire.
I spent far too little time living in the present moment, appreciating and savoring it. Somehow I kept feeling like the next stage would be better, while the current, amazing and wonderful stage was somehow not good enough.
As time went by, however, I started to realize that the current stage was pretty cool, even if considered typically “bad”. I loved the Terrible Twos and studying for my oral comprehensive exams. Even when things got difficult during the marriage, I relished the challenge of figuring out how to step up and surmount. I loved the challenge of each stage: somehow having the hurdle seem ridiculously high allowed me to let go of any of my own expectations about the outcome.
That’s not to say the results were always that great, or that the challenges didn’t take their toll. But I loved every phase of the boys young life (some I loved more than others) and for each of my own, I can really appreciate the value of what those challenges brought to me:
- Baby and pre-school – Incredible innocence, authenticity, growth and change. They turn from little blobs into tiny people with their own personality and we have the honor of watching them discover their world and experiencing everything for the first time.
- Elementary school – Their personality, cognitive skills, social skills and physical ability continue to develop. They begin to discover the nuance and depth of our world, and understand how they fit into the world.
- Middle school – Admittedly this was my least favorite stage but it was also fun. The social relationships become most important and they begin to separate themselves from their parents. It was fascinating watching them experiment and navigate the parental separation as they simultaneously form their identity with their peer group. The physical transformation during this stage is also remarkable – you literally can’t recognize many of these kids after they go through puberty.
- High school – They experiment with adulthood as they step out into the world with more confidence. Where do they fit into the wider world? What are their world views and how will they influence their world? You can start to have real intellectual conversations with them as they bring their own unique insights to the world around them.
- College – They are coming into their own intellectually and are starting to explore their professional selves. They are also learning how to live on their own and manage their own affairs as they literally leave the nest.
- 20’s – This is the decade where we struggle to establish ourselves professionally and start our family. I had the most potential and was at my physical peak in my 20’s, but had probably the lowest self-confidence. Ironic.
- 30’s – This decade is a blur, building career and family simultaneously. This was the hardest decade for me, as I was starting to realize that my self-awareness and expectations were creating the perfect storm. Pity the fools that knew me!
- 40’s – In this decade I make a breakthrough in my inward journey where I finally realize that my life is not going to be as I had planned it and I step out of my own self-imposed box. Just knowing the box is self-imposed was a big step for me and it freed me to rediscover myself. School this time around is for the pure pleasure and enjoyment as opposed to the end result of obtaining a credential. We also switch to becoming caregivers for our parents.
- 50’s – To be written….
Probably the biggest accomplishment for me is just living in the present and enjoying the stage I am in. It makes absolutely no sense living for a future that may not exist, especially when the present stage is so full of wonder and is so fleeting.
So the Best Stage of Life is the one you’re in. Go ahead. Savor the present. I dare you.