The meaning of decades over our livesThinking about ourselves in terms of decades is not merely a luxury only for the old. It improves our relationship with ourselves to gain some perspective about the decades when you’re young. It’s important to understand that while life can be very hard there is more to look forward to.

Adolescence is 13-25. The chemicals in the prefrontal lobe (roughly the center of your forehead) don’t begin to wire that bit of the brain until 25. This is the part that deals with judgement, planning and thinking ahead. Testosterone crests 25-26 which also can feed angry decisions instead of wise ones. I heard a prison psychiatrist speak a couple of years ago and he said young males in prison are more likely to reduce their bad behavior when testosterone levels reduce. Adolescence is about building your identity, experimenting with dress, hair, values and being different from your parents.

The twenties are about foolishness, what feels good and learning from mistakes. Making mistakes really matters. It’s important to be open to opportunities before you become saddled with responsibilities.

Unfortunately, drinking is too high a priority for many young people. Ask yourself do you know how to have fun without liquor? Does your liver get several 24 hour breaks without liquor in a week? Most importantly, when you drink, do you drink too much? That’s a serious problem. The prefrontal lobe is anesthetized by alcohol  – not a good thing.

Another aspect of the foolishness of the 20’s is how superficial and shallow people can be. Thankfully, we all get to spend the rest of our lives growing up.

The 30’s are often very tough. I call it the decade of sweat-equity. People get mortgages, careers and children. There is a lot of work in the 30’s. It’s important to remember that the difficulties of the 30’s are normal, it is ordinary to struggle. It’s also about growing up more psychologically. Growing up is honestly facing painful situations. Maybe you never imagined you’d be divorced or not be able to have a kid or lose your job. It’s a time to learn to come to terms with reduced expectations.

The 40’s can be good if you’ve done the work of reduced expectations in your 30’s. The late 40’s or early 50’s can be rugged because you have to survive your children’s adolescence. You don’t really earn your stripes as a parent until you’ve achieved that. Ignoring their adolescence doesn’t count. So the 40’s can go either way depending on your emotional health or your adolescents or your luck with keeping a job, or finding the right partner the second time around.

The 50’s can be really sweet. They are often rich, full and wonderful (again depending on personal context). There is a sense of clarity about who you are and what matters because you’ve been paying attention to life a long time. Perspective has been earned through experiences, both good and bad. Women can move out of their caretaking focus to thinking about themselves. You have more than enough, so buying small things that you value is easy.

You know what you like. Energy is different when you cross 50. Paying attention to replenishing your energy & not taking it for granted makes prioritizing easier.

This lovely depth that emerges from a real appreciation of life can easily continue through the end of life depending on physical health. With less time ahead, it’s easier not to waste it.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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