Last week while relaxing in the jacuzzi at the exclusive Richard’s Rooftop aboard Virgin Voyages “The Scarlet Lady,” a young couple joined us. As we chatted, we learned they had just become engaged. He looked in his mid-forties, and she was in her late twenties. It did not take him long to let us know they were staying in the ship’s most enormous suite, the Massive Suite. And that they lived in Boca (for you non-Floridians, that is short for Boca Raton—a very wealthy enclave.)
Ever the curious one and knowing that he had participated in the bidding process for an upgrade to the suite (as did we for a different suite, but ours was not accepted), I asked how far he pushed the scale for the bid. Then, in a condescending voice, he said, “now, now, Randy, we’re gentleman here, right?”
I must admit his tone and attitude rubbed me the wrong way. A few years ago, I would have been less equanimous and replied, “Ha! I’m no fucking gentleman; I’m an artist!” But I simply smiled and changed the subject.
However, the more we chatted, the more my discomfort grew. The guy was short in stature with a balding, shaven pate, big muscles, and an even bigger ego. I realized he was working extremely hard to prove himself—to his fiancé and us. I had just read a lengthy article in “The Atlantic” about Joe Rogan, and it was eerily like looking at one of his many clones.
That evening, as Gina and I had cocktails, I confessed how discomfiting I had found the encounter. Later, it hit me. It was like looking in a “mirror” at someone eerily similar to me twenty years ago. Admittedly, I’m around eight inches taller; I did not have the disproportionate muscles or the shaved head—but I DID have the ego and the entitlement. And like him, I constantly worked hard to prove myself to others and gain their approval, even on vacation. At first, that bothered me.
But then I had a eureka moment. I have changed for the good. Somehow during the last twenty years, I began growing up. Despite life with all its upheavals—I realized the suffering over the years has helped me become different. I’ve matured to a childLIKEness rather than staying childISH. At age sixty-four, I have nothing to prove. I can just BE who I am. I have chosen not to merely grow old but to grow whole.
During research for my latest book, “The Quest,” I came across a list of the traits of an Elder. It hugely impacted me. And even though I feel one does not truly become an Elder until around age seventy-five, it could not hurt to begin emulating these traits.
Here are a few:
—No longer a need to pose or prove oneself.
—Letting go of our unconscious identification with youth.
—A diminished interest in superficial social interaction and material things.
—Cultivating genuine self-acceptance of who we are now, liberates us from our inner critic and empowers us to feel and act with complete authenticity.
—A shift from a materialistic, rational world to a more cosmic, transcendent view.
—Finding a broader and deeper view of our life stories which reveals our purpose.
—A “changing of the guard” from hero to Elder—from role to soul.
—A transfer of our center of gravity from self-interest to more significant communal and planetary well-being and from self-aggrandizement to self-actualization.
Without a doubt, I have a lot of life yet to live if I’m lucky. This means I have a lot of responsibility to be true to who I am now. Will I live it mired in the expectations of the first half of life, or will I live it as an entirely new stage of life?
But thankfully, I am no longer that man in the mirror, the person desperately trying to prove myself and gain approval. Instead, I am sensing a growing maturity, a mellowness of personality and character.
The discomfit I felt in the presence of the Joe Rogan clone was not a bad thing. On the contrary, it showed my growth as a human being. It means, ironically, that I am very much alive.
The task of the four stages of life is to confront its challenges so that we can consciously transition to the next stage. For the young, it is to carefully develop our unique being; for the middle-aged, it is to establish our home, career, and identity. And for those in the second half of life, it is a transition, an embracing of the enjoyment and, ultimately, enlightenment stages in life.