If we have less energy as we get older, is that necessarily a bad thing?

I hope to still have the energy for biking as I get older. If I don't have the energy for drama, that's just fine. Photo by Blue Skyz Studios used under a Creative Commons license.

I hope to still have the energy for biking as I get older. If I don’t have the energy for drama, that’s just fine.
Photo by Blue Skyz Studios used under a Creative Commons license.

My smart and talented friend Amanda Hirsch wrote a thought-provoking blog post about the challenge of juggling her work, parenting and creative pursuits.

In a post headlined, Making Art and Getting Old, she wrote:

lately, I just feel like a square peg, and the universe of art-making possibilities is a big fat circular hole. I know that’s silly — anyone can make any kind of art, anywhere — but my inspiration feels short-circuited, waylaid by my energy level. I find myself craving, not for the first or even the fiftieth time in my adult life, the feeling of being surrounded by a community of creative collaborators who will help lift me up and realize my full potential as an artist. Not to outsource the responsibility, just to take all the pressure off this one particular set of shoulders. I don’t know that we can truly make art alone.

She recounted going to a storytelling event with a younger friend and a conversation they had about having the energy for creativity:

My friend Lindsay was there with me — she’s 21, a remarkable young woman who gives me hope in the future of humankind. As we talked after the show, I said something offhand about how we all have a finite amount of energy — and how that pool of energy gets smaller as we get older. I think back to a time when I used to perform and practice improv multiple nights a week, and as much as my soul misses it, I can’t fathom finding the energy.

I caught Lindsay’s eye, and saw her looking at me with utmost seriousness. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“You don’t?”

“No,” she said.

I can’t remember her ever disagreeing so adamantly with something I’ve said, so I paid attention.

Maybe she’s right, I thought. Maybe the more I seek out activities and people that inspire and energize me, the more energy I can create for myself.

Or maybe she’s a peppy 21-year-old who doesn’t know what it feels like to get old.

I happen to agree with Amanda, that in my 40s I do not have the energy I did in my 20s.

Thinking of the times I stayed out until 2, whether to see music or because of a boy, in my younger years, it makes me tired. When I have stayed up too late for music in recent years, I felt it the next morning as I deployed coffee and other tricks to overcome my exhaustion.

But I think there’s a big upside to this energy decrease, too.

My teens and 20s were an emotional rollercoaster. Up and down I flew in each conflict with an ill-chosen boyfriend and each challenge in my still-nascent career. I would sob great shoulder-shrugging boo-hoos over loneliness, uncertainty about what I should do with my life, and any number of other real and perceived crises.

That kind of emotional volatility sounds just as exhausting to 40-something me as a social calendar of late-night bar dates.

John and I both had other relationships in our 20s that were marked with frequent hot-headed shouting matches.

I am grateful we don’t have the energy for that drama, and instead resolve conflict through (usually) cool-headed conversations.

Each phase of life has its own special advantages.

When we are young, we are optimistic and enthusiastic before the battle scars of life harden us and perhaps leave us wiser or more cynical. Our bodies and our hearts are unscarred. Each new experience is a wonder.

As we age, we don’t have as much energy as we once did, but maybe that’s not all bad. Can you imagine trying to contain a youngster’s urgent desire to skip, jump and yell as you sit through a tedious meeting? Our interests can evolve as we develop the ability to sit quietly for longer stretches. If we’re lucky, our experience brings us wisdom and insight so instead of getting through life on pure steam power, we can work smarter not harder.

Yes, I sometimes resent that my body will punish me with a pounding hangover after I’ve had what feels like a moderate night, and yes, I have complained about my slowing metabolism when I wish I could eat the way I did in college and still fit in my clothes.

That doesn’t mean I wish I could go back to my teens or 20s, though.

Amanda is younger than I am, but she’s also raising a toddler, which from what I can tell takes Herculean physical and emotional energy. So it’s also possible that we don’t completely lose our youthful energy as much as redeploy it.

I’m good with that, too. I’d rather spend my energy going to farmers market and making dinner than winding myself up with needless emotional hullabaloo.


Categories: creativity, lifestyle

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