What does the graph of your life look like?
I imagine we’d all put something related to time or age on the horizontal axis, but what goes on the vertical? What is meaningful to you, that is worth measuring, over a lifetime? Joy? Financial success/accumulation? Education? Learning? Status? Growth? Contribution?
For a long time I conceptually contrasted puberty and menopause, seeing the former as an exponential acceleration in growth and the latter a rapid decline, like the two stems of a broad arch, an upside down parabola. This past week during a patient interview, however, a wholly different perspective dawned on me. Menopause may signal the end of child-bearing years, of youth. Some may perceive it only as a global decline—the unmistakable physical sign that we are now closer to the end of our life than the beginning. But what if it’s also a new beginning, life expectancy not withstanding?
My patient and I discussed the trade-offs we are called to make throughout life—career, relationships, geography, etc. What do we get in return for trading away our reproductive years? For me the greatest payoffs are wisdom and confidence. After about 5 decades of living, learning, and being in relationship with self and others, I welcome this phase of life with keenness and joy. What a relief to have my personality and values established, to know what I stand for. How rewarding to feel that I can walk into any room and talk to anyone, knowing fully and without question who I am, without having to compare myself to anyone around me. How fun to find opportunities for continued learning around every corner, in domains I never thought I’d encounter, or even knew existed! Everything I have experienced, learned, and struggled through until now comprises a thread in the tapestry of my life, and the picture gets more dense and colorful with each passing day, year, and decade.
The life graph of learning and personal growth is most interesting to me. Superimposed on the graph of challenge and pain, I might see the lines travel in parallel trajectories—no surprise. As the years pass, though, I see a net positive slope, a steady climb of the most meaningful curves, and menopause perhaps as a milestone inflection point, beyond which the ascent may well progress with fewer stutters and regressions, as wisdom and confidence accrue, and mission/cause come into greater focus and clarity.
I choose to see and draw my life graph this way.
Why not keep climbing until the end and go out at a peak?
Gotta go now, I’ got work to do.