It's all downhill from here

Age is just a number, right? Right?!

The other day, I forgot what day my dad died. It’s one of those dates I told myself I would never forget. I racked my brain but I just couldn’t think of it. My heart dropped into my stomach and a wave of nausea swept over me.

I could’ve easily reached for my phone and checked the calendar app, but I was so flustered I wasn’t thinking clearly. I knew he passed six months ago—on a Monday in April. I knew he passed at three-twenty-something in the afternoon. And I even knew the minutes matched the day. But was it April 24th? 26th? I couldn’t remember for the life of me.

A couple of days passed and I still couldn’t remember. It didn’t feel right to look it up on the calendar. I should know the date! Finally, I called my mom to ask her and she told me he passed on April 26th—at 3:26 pm, to be exact.

On top of all this, my 44th birthday was coming up (it’s today, actually).

Was my forgetfulness a getting older thing? No, I don’t really buy into the idea that we get more forgetful as we age. The science on it isn’t definitive, either. It’s normal for some short-term memory impairment to occur from age 45 and up, but it’s one of those situations where if you don’t use it, you lose it. 

I do believe we get more efficient at prioritizing things as we age, which can sometimes lead us to get our wires crossed and forget stuff. Or, much more likely in my case, I have way too many things on my to-do list and not enough time to do them all. There’s only so much processing power my brain can handle in a day. I didn’t even have time to process the grief that caused me to feel sick to my stomach about forgetting the date of my dad’s death.

As much as I try to tell myself that age doesn’t matter—that it’s just a number—I know it comes with a bit of baggage when I mention it. You probably had some sort of gut reaction to it when you read it a moment ago.

Maybe you thought, “Wow, he’s older than I would’ve guessed,” or, “Pfft, he’s still a kid.” For some of you, you immediately thought about how my age relates to yours. Maybe you thought, “I’m so young and he has so much life experience. How can I compete with that?” or, “If only I were only 44, I could still accomplish so much.” These are small micro-judgments—about me or yourself, and sometimes both at the same time. Don’t worry, it’s okay, I’m not offended. We all do it.

When I meet someone younger than me, especially someone whose work I admire, it’s easy to be envious of their youth. But I’ve discovered as I’ve progressed into my mid-40s that I can more easily brush that feeling off. Which is to say, I give fewer shits now.

My age ticking up each year hasn’t really fazed me the past few years. In fact, I didn’t even write about my birthday at all last year. I’ve occasionally written about how I’m statistically on the latter half of the average lifespan for American men. I guess that means I’m over the hill now?

Maybe people say they’re over the hill because it feels like they crest over a peak at the halfway point of their life and then each year goes by faster and faster, so much so that it feels like they’re screaming downhill at an increasing rate of speed until they inevitably crash.

But I don’t think of it that way.

My dad’s cancer diagnosis, deteriorating health, and subsequent passing gave me a massive dose of perspective on life. Before his diagnosis, he worked his tail off in the real estate business for nearly 40 years. When he hung it up, he was only able to enjoy a healthy retirement for a little over a year before he heard the bad news from his doctor. Over the next five years, he spent too much of his time in hospitals and specialty clinics and on more cancer treatment drugs than I can count.

Through his difficult experience, I learned that I don’t want to waste my time anymore. Not on manipulative people who try to play mind games. Not on work I don’t care about. Not on worrying about what other people think. Not on fretting about where I’m at in life now, where I’ve been, or where I’m headed.

I’m venturing down this hill on the latter half of my life, but I’m enjoying the ride. I feel more in control. Lighter. I’m not as weighed down by the worries that have plagued me in the past. And it feels good.

Thank you to Mark Koslow and Cole Feldman from Wayfinder for their edits and ideas on this piece.

P.S. In our editing session, Mark said he thinks the phrase “it’s all downhill from here” means things are going to get easier. Like you’ve done the hard work of getting up the hill and now it’s smooth sailing on the way down. But I’ve often said it as a joke in the opposite way as if you reached the pinnacle and you can only go down from there. What does it mean to you?

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