I visit the beach often, and I have since I was a child. Some people go for vacation; I go to have a reality check and to center my thinking. Now that I am heading toward middle age, I recently realized that the ocean has taught me a lot about aging gracefully.
1. All storms are cleansing. I never understood this until I stood on the beach after a hurricane with my back to the water. Destruction was everywhere—broken windows, porches blown away, missing homes. And then I turned back toward the water. It was the clearest and bluest I had ever seen it. The sand was pristine, and it was as if an aquarium was within 50 feet of the shore, with sand dollars, starfish, stingrays and small sharks swimming happily in the calm waves.
This is a metaphor for life: Storms in your personal and professional lives are inevitable. They are exhausting, destructive and infuriating, but sometimes, they are cleansing, and the life on the other side is more beautiful than before.
2. Both big waves and small waves matter. Big waves–promotions, awards, graduations, weddings and other milestones–all matter and help to build up your “life resume,” but the small waves matter too. Actions like showing up on time, consistently doing a good job, and always showing respect to others also shape the shoreline known as your life. The small things, taken as a whole, amount to more than the big ones and are sometimes a better reflection on who you are as a person.
3. Sunscreen is important. This sounds obvious, but the closer you are to middle age, the more you realize how much proactive behavior matters to your health. Sunscreen, health screenings, eating right, exercising and just taking care of yourself in general are important.
4. Your problems are small when stacked up against the ocean. Have you ever stood on the beach and looked out to sea? You are small, the size of a grain of sand, in comparison to the other world known as the ocean. It is a humbling fact that we should remember often—that our problems are small when compared to those in other parts of the world.
5. Even if your problems are big, your world will not stop turning. That’s the thing about standing on the beach, looking out at the ocean. The fish, sharks and other sea life are going to continue to live their lives. The tides will continue to lap up onto the shore. Even when faced with our biggest challenges and our destructive phases in life, there is still a chance to get up one more day and get it right.
6. You will have low tides and high tides, and you need both. You can’t win all the time. You can’t get promotions all the time. You can’t have an epic experience every day or you would burn out. You need downtime and boring days just as much as you need good times and terrible times. Loss, disappointment, betrayal and trauma all come with aging. You can’t have good times without the bad and the boring, as these experiences cultivate your appreciation of aging and the shortening years of your life.
The best thing about all of these lessons that I’ve learned is that they will continue to guide me through my next few phases in life. Whether it is children growing older, losing loved ones due to illness and age, or aging even more myself, these are all my next waves of lessons and the beach will be there to teach me.