Trusting the Journey: The Secret to Happiness in Middle Age

“Being in control of everything. The older we get the more we realise how little we actually control. And there’s no good reason to hold yourself down with things you can’t control. Learn to trust the journey, even when you do not understand it. Oftentimes, what you never wanted or expected turns out to be what you need.”

Woman and man holding hands.
Photo by Emma Bauso on Pexels.com

This quote is from Marc Chernoff’s article, 20 Things That Will Matter a Lot Less to You in Twenty Years. I assume Marc is younger than me and is predicting the wisdom that often comes with someone my age – 50+ – or older, but evidently, I’ve been a slow learner and its’ only recently that these ideas have started to resonate.

I would recommend you read the post in full because there is tons of great advice that I am finding relevant to my life right now. But the idea that struck the most was this one, perhaps because I was/am a control freak who tries to fix everything – according to my sister.

Trust me, you can’t fix everything

It is only now, in middle age, that I am finally accepting that I don’t possess the superpower (or indeed any superpower) to fix everything – no one does, not even those with the money to buy whatever they want or need. Money may be able to buy rockets, but it can’t buy you back your youth or health – as Steve Jobs found out – or even love and loyalty.

Money can’t buy everything

For that reason, we must learn to trust the journey, as Marc advises, and not let the frustration of not being able to control everything make us unhappy or bitter.

Easier said than done, but to put this idea into context, I have recently acknowledged the two things that have held me back in terms of my acceptance of my lack of power:

  1. My preoccupation with the past and the victim persona I allowed myself to adopt because of the trauma I experienced as a child. Perhaps, the tendency to self-pity (and certainly to over-think) is ingrained in my character – because I have a clear memory of an aunt calling me a whiner as a child – or maybe that trait was a symptom of undiagnosed anxiety, insecurity and a need of perfectionism to feel in control. What I now know is that those “why me?” feelings aren’t helpful and detracted me from happiness. I’m not negating the emotional impact of childhood trauma, but constantly looking back meant I got stuck in time and struggled to move forward.
  2. The amount of time I have wasted trying to change my son. I wish I could say that for the most part that time was spent trying to understand his differences, but that wouldn’t be completely true. You see, for too long, I tried to change him into the son we anticipated – a sort of clone of us, I suppose. And those misplaced expectations have had a high price. My abortive attempts to change him, fix him, and make him slot into the hole we created for him have threatened our relationship. Worse, I see now that I was trying to carve out his life for him as some sort of validation of ours! Like there is only one way to live. It has taken me almost twenty-five years to understand that he must make his own journey, take responsibility for his choices, and I must trust them.

If someone where to ask me if I have learned anything from the experience of raising our son, I would say that it has made me a better person – more compassionate, a better listener, less bigoted.

Trusting the journey would have been a smoother ride

It would have been a better approach to make the most of this precious opportunity of life. And what I love about the expression is that rather than defining our mission around the social construct we have been sold in the west – that success is intrinsically linked to financial success – we are less likely to be disappointed when we set out on our path without expectation. Accepting that there is only so much we can do to control our lives and the lives of others is about making the best of the hand we are given and it is a liberating approach.

I’ve experienced countless why me? moments in my life, especially in connection to my son, and there’s no way I could have prepared myself mentally for the anguish they caused. And yet, when I look back on the aspirations I had in my twenties, I understand how lucky I’ve been – I have been happy and loved, many times over.

So maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. Maybe, we should set ourselves a lower bar and measure our success by whether we meet our basic needs like so many other people around the world. Can we put food on the table? Is our health good? Do we have somewhere to shelter tonight?

Once we need our basic needs, surely everything else is a bonus?

The wisdom of middle age and the experience of a decade of renting houses have shown me that material things, and in particular where I live, are a minor contribution to my happiness. Of course, residing in Australia, a rich country where the main focus of the lifestyle is outside, plays a part in that. Nevertheless, my home’s value lies in its functionalism. It is somewhere to entertain family and friends and seek refuge from the elements.

“The good life begins when you stop wanting a better one.” Nkosiphambili E. Molapis

“Experiences” are where I am choosing to place my time, money, and energy in the future. Because, finally, I have learned that the gift of life is about beautiful sunsets, walks in nature, check-ins from friends, new foods, cocktails or impromptu gathering of friends.

Surprisingly, living more minimally is one element of my life that makes me increasingly happy

And though I’m one of those annoying people who says things like “It is what it is,” or “What will be will be,” those expressions are not about giving up on my dreams, they’re about finally trusting the journey. And I’ve never felt less pressure in my life.

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