I recently celebrated my birthday with a long-time girlfriend who incidentally has exactly the same birthday as me. Since turning 21, birthdays have been fairly unremarkable, for me anyway. But this year’s birthday feels like a milestone of heavy proportions. It brings with it a tangible sense of aging (like fine wine rather than good cheese, thank you.)
We lunched at the posh Café Julia in downtown Honolulu. Immediately after being seated we both confessed; Technically, we can still claim the ‘thirty-something’ title, but in reality we’ve crossed over the threshold into the we are practically 40 zone. OMG.
Physically, I can easily tell the difference between the two. For example, I’ve been playing tennis for twenty plus years, but only this year I notice I just don’t move as quickly as I used to. It also takes me forever to warm up…and warm down. No matter how much time goes by my achy muscles don’t ever seem to stop aching. And added to this constant ache is a new kind of pain–shocks of pain in the joints particularly in my knees and right shoulder.
Do I really have tennis shoulder? Do I really have arthritic knees? It’s possible. I mean I am practically 40.
After some amount of denial, I finally adjusted my tennis game. I have arrived at last at what I have been calling for the last two decades, ‘old-people’ tennis. For instance, I only serve with a quarter-swing versus the young 360 degree full-swing. Also, I am likely to opt for losing a point without even moving for the ball when I have already deduced it is unlikely I will make the shot. I prefer instead, to reserve energy for the shots I have better odds with. I’ll call this wisdom.
It’s not all gloomy. Along with my aged knees, and new-found wisdom, I also notice a hard-won fine grace that wasn’t there in the thirty-something era. Around the time of my birthday, an incident happened at work. One of the higher-ups gave us a speech about being 10% more productive without any increase in resources or so much as a strategy on what to improve. Long-story short, no one could relate to the boss on this one. And in fact lots of people were upset, angry even. Me, I was indignant. We’ve been operating under pay-cut conditions for the last three years due to the Great Recession and now this random speech?
I told my co-worker later, “I mean the guy can at least show up with a box of pencils or paper clips if he expects us to be 10% more productive. To say that we have room for 10% more productivity without really changing anything is to say we are currently slackers.” This reactionary dialogue went on and on despite saying repeatedly to myself, “Okay, enough already. Get back to work.”
But I couldn’t get back to work. I couldn’t just let it slide and move on. I felt compelled to voice what many of us were feeling. I finally decided I should send the higher-up an email.
During the course of writing this email, I struggled with my ego tendency to be self-righteous and condescending. I was right after-all and he was so out of line. My enlightened self intervened throughout saying, “Get over yourself and stop taking things too personally.” This is so much easier said than done.
In the end, I was successful in voicing what needed to be said without being judgemental. But you know it took a lot of effort to first calm down, and second to remove the idea that he deserved to be told-off. No doubt, I am and always will be a recovering self-righteous angry-holic.
He is not the enemy, nor is anyone else for that matter, not even drunk drivers. We are all people who deserve respect despite our misgivings. I thanked the boss for his efforts and for his well-meaning intentions. But I also let him know where I disagreed with him. It wasn’t exactly grace under fire, more like grace after incredulity, over-reaction and lots of huffing and puffing, but then again I am still only thirty-something. If such higher grace requires age in the four-decade range, I’ll take it even if it comes with arthritic knees.