Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The reason we age

We are always hearing about the age of reason, but no one mentions the reason of age. Granted that we have little choice in growing old, but is that all we do, or really want to do? Do we really ‘dumb down’ as we approach our more senior years? Let’s walk through this process a bit. See how much of yourself is reflected here.

As we exit our primary years of school we decide that is enough late night cramming. It’s time to turn all that knowledge into a paycheck. For some it works, but all too often the reality of life puts a brick in our shorts and shows us just how little we truly have learned. Tis a painful lesson but it becomes all too apparent that we really do need to spend more late nights cramming more useless information into an already full head. Where will it all go? It’s obvious that we have to take from two to twelve, or more years of our lives to cram more useless facts in so that we can spend the rest of our lives using a fraction of this information to earn a decent paycheck.

Guess what? Those two to twelve plus years are not the end of it! You spend the rest of your life learning. This is commonly referred to as the school of hard knocks and your education here is the most critical and the most amazing. Let’s jump ahead to your mid twenties and see what’s changed.

If you are the average American college student, you have learned how to party. You may have even learned a few shortcuts to getting class work done. But, outside of class I imagine you’ve learned much more than you realized. It is cheaper to buy frozen pizza instead of having them delivered all the time. Gas is expensive, but walking is cheap. You’ve learned practical instead of extravagant. These are important lessons that will carry you through the rest of your life. However, as your income grows, your memory of these early lessons decrease.

You made it! You graduated and now you’re an engineer (lawyer, doctor, whatever). You’ve even found a job. The money bucket is overflowing! The first thing that typically happens is the lessons of practicality disappear. Even the first bill for student aid loans doesn’t throw you. You are on your way to middle and upper class! It’s time to look for a mate (although many find these as part of the college program. It’s called love and marriage 101. No books required but they should be. This new education soon coins another set of lessons for which an entire set of books has been written and none of them are right. It’s called children. You learn by doing.) Let’s skip ahead a bit; in fact, we’ll go all the way to ‘middle age’. You’ve turned 45.

Your first marriage didn’t work out? Aww, that’s too bad, but that’s life. You’ve paid off most of your school loans but now you have alimony and child support? Or maybe you’re the one getting the alimony and child support in which case it’s never enough. It’s time to revisit the frugality lessons again. I can buy x number of boxes of mac and cheese with this much money if I put the phone bill off for just one more week. Do you buy your groceries late at night so no one sees you stocking up on macaroni and cheese and frozen pizzas? How often do you look at your co-workers and wonder how many are in the same boat? You’ve learned the reality of life. One more stop on our trip through life.

Retirement is just around the corner. You finally paid the last of the child support and the ex remarried so the alimony stops. From the other side, no more payments coming in, but that’s ok, your job pays well now. It’s time to see what lessons have been learned throughout this journey.

You’ve had kids and grandkids. Where did you get the most enjoyment? Did buying that new car make you happier than seeing the look on your child’s face when you went to his first band concert? Your living room now displays a wall-sized television. Which would you rather watch, that or your grandchildren getting covered in ice cream and cake on their faces, hands, and everywhere else. Did the money you earned buy you happiness or were the smiles of those around you more priceless? You can now answer all those questions you asked your parents and grandparents. How come the sky is blue and why are dandelions called weeds? These and the other questions of youth have two answers, the real one, and the grandparents one.

This is the reason we age.