When you’re in your teens and 20s, there are some responsibilities you must have to continue to grow. You have to do your homework, you have to work hard to develop relationships and find your start in life. You have to learn to take care of yourself to a larger degree. However, what a sad youth it would be to be overly prudent.
When I was in my late teens and early 20s I spread my wings in flight. I traveled around the world absorbing all kinds of new things. Living on very little did not seem risky to me at all. Somehow everything always seemed to work out. I had little fear. Though some people that age have already taken on important responsibilities, I had relatively few. I sort of recommend this to others, if you’re so inclined. Major responsibilities can come soon enough. I chose to wait until I was about 26 years old. For me, that allowed me enough years to really have full freedom, discover my adult self, and have the youthful fun that would be too sad to forgo. I wasn’t overly prudent. Just a touch for general safety. I was, however, preparing myself for the time when I would need to buckle down and get really serious. I completed my major education, and was finally ready to be a bonafide adult.
In my late 20s and early 30s career growth seemed important. I’ll admit that I did not have children, but I’m sure that would have been the time I would have chosen to have them, if I did. But I understand how important mixing risk taking and prudence can be at that age. You have to have to come up with a strategy. One should probably be investing in things (like a home, and other possessions that gain value). A 401-K should already have some good money in it, and a nice monthly contribution for its future growth. But still, it is time to still take some risks. Life becomes more complex and demanding. That demand requires a good balance of risk and prudence.
I can’t speak completely for most people who enter middle age. In my Developmental Psychology class I learned that many people at this age are usually very concentrated on their careers and maintaining stability. Many are starting to send their first child to college. That can put a strain on top of other life requirements. They are sometimes either so immersed in their careers that they hunger to be on top, or the opposite, they are feeling dread with each workday, and daydreaming about an early retirement in the future. Many are also seeing other aspects of their lives differently. They may be looking at their marriage in a new way. I, however, was in a different position. In my late 30s until present (mid 40s) I have been on disability for a major illness. Such a situation disrupts the usual adult development. Though prudence may become much more important for most at this age, it becomes especially important for people like me (and my husband). While many women are establishing themselves well in careers, I became more and more dependent on my spouse. I felt I was going nowhere, or even took steps backward. It was no one’s fault. Just the reality of my situation.
I go to a psychiatrist for my bipolar disorder. You can’t imagine how many times he has repeated “X, just take things one day at a time. Work on finding wellness in the present and don’t be overly concerned about the future.”
The above quote is a common one said at 12-step programs. I do see the wisdom in that statement, but for me, I think my doctor means it in a broader sense than for many in 12-step programs. After all, most people in 12-step programs need not be completely prudent about all aspects of their lives. They have one or up to a few specific challenges, but usually can operate/function normally in many others. But it’s not so very easy for me.
In my mid 40s, I still have that hankering to want to soar higher to make up for the time in my 30s that I lost. I feel like I have to catch up with others my age, in many respects. I sometimes think whether or not I should ignore my doctor’s advice. Is he just too cautious for me? Well, maybe if it was just him, I’d cast his advice aside, but other important people in my life recommend the same.
From time to time I do think about the fact that time is flying by faster nowadays. What will I do in my 50s? And then my 60s? They aren’t that far away for me. I’m just not ready for them. What if a quest to “catch up” makes me sick again and pushes me two or more steps backwards? Yes, this type of thinking does stir up some anxiety. And the anxiety becomes a barrier for proper growth too. For this reason I am trying hard to live more in the present. Living in the present and doing (and writing) things I like helps keep the anxiety away. I take just baby steps forward. Ones that come naturally. I do know, however, that someday I will have to make a move a little faster. But as Scarlett O’Hara said “I can’t think of that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.