Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nothing but a number

When I was a kid, like any good middle child I measured my birthdays and age against that of my two brothers. Specifically against my older brother, who was born three and a half years before me. When his March 30 birthday rolled around, I know I had six months ahead where he would be four years older than me, in terms of the round yearly number we all use post-toddlerhood.  Then in October, I would catch back up, and enjoy six months of being only three years his junior.

Yesterday my brother turned 50. That's a big one, and I've known it was headed my way for some time. The fact that Dwayne has hit it brings the reality of its approach home again.  Right now he's four years older than me; in October, I'll close the gap again.

Another way to look at age is in terms of career. I got started pretty late, as many academics do, having taken my time wending my way through grad school.  I landed my first and only university job in 1999, and I'm currently completing my thirteenth year of teaching. I'll be eligible to apply for full professor status after next year (my first couple of years of teaching were non-tenure track, so I lost a couple of rungs on the ladder).  And then I'll be started the next phase of my career, probably looking around to see if my administrative experience might make me useful elsewhere, probably putting myself in position to succeed my current boss when he retires in a few years.

I've got maybe twenty years left in this business. More than I've got behind me. That's kind of the opposite of the age number staring me in the face.

This morning I ran my second 5K of 2012.  I hope there will be a handful more before the year ends. When I say "ran," it's even more of an exaggeration than usual; not only was it my usual 12-minute-mile slow jog, but I also walked a lot more than I usually would find acceptable. You see, on Thursday afternoon I came down with the most sudden, violent fever I can remember. I was knitting with my students one minute, and the next I was feeling like crap and trying to get home before the shakes started in earnest. I shivered for an hour, ached for another, then took Motrin. And it was over. I waited for the next twenty-four hours for the other shoe to drop, for the gastrointestinal part of the virus to take hold or whatever, and it never did.

So I took it easy today, still cautious after that strange interlude.  And I remember that even though this is the first time in my life that I've ever attempted to run 5Ks, meaning I'm about as healthy as I've ever been, I'm not getting any younger. I don't know how 50 is supposed to feel, and I'm pretty sure I don't feel it anyway, but I wonder how long I'll be able to ignore my age. No use asking Dwayne; he's a lifelong distance runner and still looks and acts like my default image of him, the athletic collegian.

What really makes me feel young is that I keep changing, I keep learning, and I keep reinventing myself. In that respect I really look forward to becoming a full professor and being liberated to look around and see what opportunities are out there for me. It's the kind of new stage in life that gets me energized. Sometimes the years you put into a career are better than a time machine that could take you back to the beginning.

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