Every once in a while, BoomerCafé lets a baby boomer ruminate on life — what shaped us, and where we’re going. That’s what this piece by Don Caplan of Vancouver Island in Canada is about. Don is part of The Eighth Stage, a community of older workers, semi-retirees, and retirees who share ideas of common interest. That’s why he’s sharing his Reflections on Delayed Optimism.
I’m not sure that this is a common experience for other Baby Boomers, but contrary to Freudian teachings, the events that shaped my personality and my outlook on life did not occur during childhood.
It was those years between marriage at age 20 through to achieving my graduate degree at age 32 that represented a more salient period in my life than any before. It was a period of positive growth and it was during that time that I felt on top of my game and in control. It also established a false sense of invincibility and superiority.
From ages 32 through to 55, I created an imaginary ladder, always yearning for the next step and never appreciating the rung I was on at any given point. The light-hearted sensitive young adult evolved into someone whose insecurities caused him to pretend to be someone he was not, some high-flying mogul who could beat the system.
On the plus side, I proved that I was capable of doing much more at an intellectual level than I was led to believe I could in my early years. However, the application of that intellectual capacity did not extend to self-perception and self-management. In fact, this period was filled with inner turmoil.
Psychologist Erik Erikson cites this middle-aged period as one of struggling between what he calls “generativity” and stagnation; one of being torn between self-absorption/self-indulgence and giving oneself to others. To be sure, this was the stage that I believe had the most impact on my thinking today as an aging Baby Boomer.
As a successful management consultant and subsequently a successful academic advisor and teacher seemed to be inversely proportional to my ability to self-manage. My supposed intellectual skills were overcome by an emotional attachment to money and, in retrospect, feelings of inadequacy. I was a hedonistic and needy person.
However, I now refuse to accept yesterday’s behaviors to define me now. If I am to integrate my experiences into making the next 20 to 30 years meaningful, I have to do some work linking what I learned from those years of inner turmoil to what I intend to become. Now, my career sunset years have given me a desire to “be” more than to do or to have.
Contrary to urban myths, I cannot accept that as we age we become more of the worst of what we were. I am excited about transcending my earlier indignities in this upcoming vibrant period of my life. I must not stop growing, nor should I despair. As long as I am conscious, as long as I have the ability to discern and learn, I will return to who I was really meant to be, and will feel good about it in what Erikson calls “the eighth stage.”