Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Wisdom to Share: Birthday musings…1/9/2022

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” –Satchel Paige

Another trip around the sun. 62 years old. How odd, to have a “6” in front of whatever my age is. 60 really wasn’t cataclysmic, at least not in the existential way 50 was. Kinda matter-of-fact, 60. 62? About as nothingberger an age as they come. They seem to be coming fast and furious now, the birthdays. It’s a little hard getting worked up about them to be honest.

Still, New Year’s Day and birthdays lend themselves to a bit of introspection, or at least a little bit of taking account of the “state of you”. Happily, since my birthday is only 7 days into January, I can knock it all out in a single “musing”. It’s interesting, the older I get the less I find myself keeping track of. Sure, I still track sleep metrics, and I’m certainly aware of not only my regular, routine retinue of snaps and crackles but every single new pop that shows up to join the band.

But there’s nothing really new here. As I’ve gotten older my genetics have caught up with me. Thankfully I have two good friends who are my docs and they simply won’t let me pretend I can diet or exercise my way out of chromosomal destiny. I sleep better (and so does Beth) when I drink just a little bit less at dinner. Nothing else really registers. I would fit into my shirts and pants a little better if I either exercised to match my diet, or ate to match my activity. Again, not really revelational, either of those. I’ve long ago made peace with the fact that I am simply a happier human being, more fun to be around, if I relax a bit about buying pants with a bigger waste size for the first time in 10 years.

So what am I actually thinking about? The last couple of paragraphs could certainly give the impression that I’m pretty satisfied with where I am. That I’ve put it in cruise control. That’s not actually true, though. I think ol’ Satchel was talking mostly about how old he felt physically; everyone always wanted to know how the ageless wonder could be so good for so long on the baseball field. Who knows how old he actually was when he finally hung up his glove, but I’m betting it was 10 or 15 years before 62.

Honestly though, I really don’t know how old I feel in ways not physical. There’s so much out there to learn. Wouldn’t it be cool to learn new stuff as readily as a 5 or 10 year old? I’m sure that my neural pathways have become much less “plastic”, but still, I feel like I’m young enough to not only learn new stuff in my comfort zones so that I’m better at my regular stuff, but also start fresh with some stuff that’s totally different. I know it’s not microsurgery, but learning how to make a decent cappuccino with a “manual” espresso machine was kinda cool.

A couple of weightier things have coalesced around 62. Two gentlemen are on my mind as I look toward a horizon coming ever closer. I’ve written about the first before. We shared a ski lift a few days before my 40th birthday. I must have shared that the prospect of my 40’s was somewhat daunting. His response was inspirational, and in retrospect dead-on accurate. Your 40’s, he said, were the years when you are as close to every peak you have ever, or will ever experience. You will still be close enough to the athlete you were as a younger man to participate in almost any physical pursuit you wish. If your work is physical you’ve done your 10,000 reps and then some; you will move with efficiency and grace. And with 40 years under your belt you have accumulated wisdom and are beginning to take on the polish of maturity.

All of this will make you better for everyone who depends on you, everyone to whom you are responsible.

This brings me to another friendly acquaintance, this one from my early years in the CrossFit world. Andy Stumpf is a former Navy SEAL who was part of the management team of a younger CrossFit, Inc. and who is now a leadership consultant and a life coach of sorts. It’s likely that I haven’t actually talked with Andy for 6 or 7 years at least, but I stumbled upon his podcast while driving home from our South Carolina vacation. While I was learning how to work my new espresso machine I had him on in the background.

The first thing that Andy said that made me perk up (sorry) was the general admonition to “be the better version of yourself.” Not the best version; no one knows what that really is. The “better version”. I’m familiar with this concept, this game. My alter ego in the CrossFit world was a guy named “bingo”, an avatar created not from bits but from words that represented what I felt was the better parts of who I was at any given time. This isn’t a new thing for me in any way. I’ve tried to find and apply this better version since my wedding day.

What Andy said next, and I’ll be paraphrasing, is what really made me stop and listen. Your better self is not one that is directed straight ahead, along a path solely in front of you, but rather one that looks first to the left and to the right to see who you might be able to take along. Andy, the former SEAL, is using a military analogy of course, describing the best teammates and leaders as those who check on the teammates or subordinates alongside them, choosing the course that is also best for them. Or even the course that is better for them then even for you.

Returning to my friend on the ski lift for a moment, your 60’s are the years when your inevitable physical decline is balance by the continued accumulation of knowledge and experience. The sum of these two characteristics is wisdom. These are the years that bring the wisdom to share. As I join these two men and their counsel I find a tiny kernel of inspiration on this birthday/New Year’s reflection: if one is fortunate enough to be asked, now is the time in life where one shares whatever it is that is their “better self”.

I’m not sure if I ever saw the guy on the ski lift again after that weekend, and Heaven knows if I will ever have the privilege of talking with Andy again. But I am deeply grateful to them both for where I’m going with their gifts. Our “better self” is an attainable goal that is worth seeking. As we leave behind pieces parts that cannot be better, like the skier I was at 40, we put our efforts toward those that can. Like the continued attainment of wisdom. We look outside ourself, look to see who is standing to the left and to the right of us, with the wisdom gained to lead all three of us to something or somewhere we might call “better, still”.

So I guess that’s where I am at 62. Not a bad place to start my next trip around the sun.

I’ll see you next week…

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