Our Changing Sense of Value

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

—Robert Frost

Part of our psychological state when we reach midlife centers around the fact that our bodies are aging and around all of the challenges that come along with that aging process. No one is ready to get old. Psychologically, it is a rare person who moves from one stage of life to another completely prepared and accepting of the physical changes that take place over a lifetime. For most of us, reaching midlife comes as somewhat of a shock, and we may feel a legion of emotions when confronting the evidence before us that the first half of our life is over. Like being born naked and vulnerable as a baby, we now find ourselves in a similar position in that the illusion of immortality and invulnerability we felt as adolescents and young adults has given way to a newer reality that presents a glimpse of the finality of our lives. This is why midlife elicits existential anxiety and deeper questing. Being faced with a realization of our own mortality tends to make us think about larger, more universal issues that we may have neglected to face up until now.

Robert Frost’s poem has a sense of wistful sadness regarding the nature of the “gold” in our lives leaving us. Just when we’ve come to appreciate it, the gold has gone, having turned into another color before our very eyes. There is a value placed on the symbol of gold for youth that is not replaced by a symbol of greater value by midlife, especially in modern cultures. This is why the idea of midlife, instead of being celebrated as a graduation from a state of inexperience into a state of maturity, is often experienced as a tragic loss of the only thing that is seen as valuable: the gold of our youth. The real tragedy however, is the lack of recognition of the transformation of that gold.

Energy is never lost; it just changes form and goes on. Our life energy is no exception. Although it may seem as if we have lost our youth and all of the entitlements that went along with it, our life energy remains as vital as ever. We just have to be able to recognize the new form it has taken as we journey into midlife.

The tendency of wanting things to stay the same in our lives is something that everyone without exception will have to confront and challenge. Midlife is a particularly auspicious time to engage in this challenge. The illusion of having unlimited time has begun to erode, exposing the reality that we have no say in how much time we have left. This realization can lead to feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and depression. But if we can review our lives up until now in terms of the changes that have already occurred and what they have produced, we can see that midlife is simply the next place and time for something different to take place on the stage of our life experience.

The changing nature of things is indeed a universally shared predicament. If we understand that transformations of all kinds are part of the human experience, we will be able to welcome the physical and psychological seasons as they come and go, accepting their gifts as they appear in the current of time. The extent to which we have learned to accept and even embrace change is the key to being able to navigate our midlife journey successfully.

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