A long time ago, in high school, I memorized part of the poem Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In 1842, Tennyson imagined the mythical king suffering a kind of midlife crisis. I was a teenager. I didn’t know anything about midlife (and didn’t care), but I couldn’t get the poem out of my mind.
Now that I’m in my sixties, it might be one of my favorite poems because it speaks of one man’s view of aging. Ulysses is bored with civilization. His wife is aged and happily settled, and his son is a public administrator. The hordes are behaving themselves.
Ulysses itches to get back out on the ocean, find new lands to conquer and kick some behind. Rally the old warriors for one last escapade. He’s willing to make terrific sacrifices for one more shot at glory.
That’s one view of how to age. Facing old age, the king wants to speed up, pedal to the metal, launch the fleet and do battle. His wife is happy to relax, content with hearth and home.
There’s no right way. There’s only the right way for you. And what is that?
I go back and forth. I crave the idea of having nothing on my calendar. My happiest mornings are the ones where Google’s daily email says “You have no events scheduled today.”
Lordamighty, I love that message. But it doesn’t happen very often.
Do you ever ponder this question of whether to speed up or slow down, now that you’re the age you are? Maybe you’re thinking, well, I work still. I don’t have that choice. But in a way, you do. You can choose not to rally behind your employer’s new initiatives. You can choose not to expand your business. Etc.
I’m constantly torn between speeding up and slowing down at this point in my life. I could argue both sides.
We should speed up because we have less time. Fewer grains of sand in the hourglass and all that.
But on the other hand, haven’t we done enough by now? Aren’t we enough? We’ve been running hard all our lives. Now might be a good time to stop and smell the rose’.
Sometimes we keep doing things out of habit.
Sometimes it’s fear. Of poverty, of free time, of loneliness, of not keeping our brains sharp.
Maybe it’s good to be conflicted, because you’re actively weighing both sides. Thinking, always thinking. Which means you’re not settled; you’re aware. You’re not sleepwalking.
I kinda/sorta plan to run hard for five more years, building my media empire–ha ha! I mean, raising my visibility as a writer–and then, once I have a lot of devoted readers, simply blog and write for the rest of my life. Like the picture above, only without the wine. I can’t drink it anymore, unfortunately.
Luckily, my dream of old age won’t involve climbing aboard an ocean-going warship and kicking behinds. Ulysses was a pretty hard case, but you have to admire his drive.
Here’s the poem. As you read it, enjoy the existential crisis imagined by the author, 175 years ago. Afterward, maybe you’ll share your thoughts about this issue, what your decision is (if you’ve made one) and why.
PS Thanks for being on this journey with me. I appreciate your company.
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson