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"Making life better"

That sound you hear, ladies and gentlemen, is my body falling apart as middle age approaches.Man plugging his ears at explosion

What a drag it is getting old... I think it was the Beatles who said that, and they were right as far as physical development goes. Even worse is the fact that it is all downhill from here, physiologically speaking. This gradual decline in physical ability has been going on for a while, but it starts to become noticeable for most people by around their forties or so... MIDDLE AGE.

As people age, they must adjust to the increasing disability of their own bodies. As Hillyer (1993) has pointed out in Feminism and disability, when a woman can no longer trust her eyesight or coordination enough to get up on a ladder and fix a leak in the ceiling, for example, it affects her concept of herself as a strong, independent woman. And so begins a trend toward increasing dependence on othersÖ..

For those who have more income, this increasing dependency may not be so obvious, as they simply pay others to, e.g., repair the roof. However, there is some small change in a womanís (or manís) self-concept when she comes to realize that she no longer CAN do such things herself. This is a whole different ballgame from not having time, or choosing not to because you donít like the dead, yucky leaves up there.

Look at the table in your text on chronic health conditions (Table 15-1). Compared to when you were an adolescent, you are three times as likely at age 45 to have chronic sinus problems, thirteen times as likely to have arthritis or high blood pressure, seven times as likely to have an orthopedic impairment. Visual impairment is five times as common, hearing impairment is almost nine times as prevalent.

This does not mean that one's self-esteem is necessarily reduced. One may simply change one's values and decide that physical ability is overrated. The point is, SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL ADJUSTMENT IS NECESSARY. Which brings us to the first of -----

Robert Peck's four psychosocial tasks of mid-life

1. Move to valuing wisdom over valuing physical prowess.

  Personally, this has been the hardest task for me, to accept that I just do not have the energy to work as much as many hours as I did when I was younger, to acknowledge that I have to cut back and so "no" to some contracts, activities and people.

2. Shift from socializing versus sexualizing in human relationships.

Oh, did I remember to mention that about half of American men over 40 have at least occasional problems with impotence?

3. Cathectic flexibility versus cathectic impoverishment

Okay, I admit it, I had to look up the word cathexis. It means emotional investment in an object, activity or idea. A lot of research shows this to be important in middle age. On the next web page, there is some discussion about how women change their views and values from early to late adulthood. An earlier page discussed this same issue with regard to Levinson's research on men's development.

4. Mental flexibility versus mental rigidity

During middle age, people need to guard againt becoming "set in their ways" and remain open to alternate means of accomplishing goals.


It's not all bad news, though. on the positive side, middle adulthood is a period consideraby less stressful than early adulthood or adolescence. Two reasons this are so are EXPERIENCE and STATUS which comes with increasing age. By middle age, we often have less anxiety because we are able, through our experience, to anticipate the likely outcomes of situations, are more sure of own goals and abilities.

Let's talk a little about experience. One major cause of anxiety and stress is uncertainty, not knowing a probable outcome, not knowing what to do. If you have never traveled on business, interviewed for a job or bought a home before, it can be a very stressful experience. For example, I often travel to conferences to give presentations, sometimes accompanied by students who are presenting for the first time. Because I have done this many times, I can call the travel agent, who already has all of the information in her computer, and tell her what day and time I need to leave and arrive, and also have her make hotel and car arrangements. The students, on the other hand, have to find a travel agent, since they don't have one, provide her all of the information. Or, they may not even think to call a travel agency and make all of the arrangements themselves, because they think an agency is too expensive. (Of course, travel agents are free, they make their money on commissions from the airlines and hotels). I bring copies of any transparencies I might need and extra copies of handouts just in case the overhead breaks. If I need copies made, I know that most hotels have a business center where this can be done, for a fee, and, if the business center is not open, most large cities have chains such as Kinko's or Staples which are open 24 hours. I once saw some students trying frantically to get a cab to some copy center in Washington, DC to make copies of their papers a few hours before a meeting. I took the papers from them and politely asked the clerk at the front desk if she could make 20 copies for me and charge it to my room, which she did. The students stood their with their mouths open, and one finally said, "I did not know you could do that."
    This example is just a little thing. The point is, there are a great many little things, from registering a child for school to registering an automobile which are less stress because we have done them before. This fact is equally true on the job. Once you have written 50 grant proposals, Individual Education Plans or C++ programs, it is a lot easier than doing it the first time. You know what to do, and, even more important in reducing stress, you know that you are capable of doing it.

Middle age is when most of us achieve the highest status in our professions. Because you have proven yourself, as a middle adult you are able to have more choice over your work tasks, hours and conditions. You receive more money, have more vacation time and other fringe benefits because you have earned it. Remember the earlier web page on the types of first jobs most young adults have? These tend to be limited in authority and creativity, in contrast to the type of positions which are occupied by people in middle age.

What about people who are still stuck in a dead-end, low-paying job at age 55? Chances are, THEY are not too happy. Income is related to life satisfaction at the lower end, that is, people who are living in poverty are more depressed than people who are not. However, there is not much relationship overall. In other words, the president of a university is not necessarily any happier than a professor there, but they are both likely to be happier than the janitor who comes in and waxes their office floors each night.

The next web page reviews Levinson's research on women's adult development.


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