There’s no denying the numbers anymore, but life’s prime comes with a whole lot of reality checks – this is my 2023 in review across the threshold into middle age.
Congratulations friends, we made it through another year. So much has happened globally, communally and personally that it’s sort of hard to even work out where to start. And for sure entering those prime years and crossing the threshold into middle age is going to be up there, I really can’t deny it any more. Teenager, then young adult, then adult but still young adult – nah dudes, I’m now no longer an age I can get away with it anymore and it’s time to embrace it.
More on that later.
As with all my years in review posts, I like to take a broad cross section across all the areas of interest I carry and tend to then zoom in on the really personal things.
The end of the year is always a super reflective time and I invite you to review 2023 with me, either as the year ends or whenever you find yourself reading this, in the view to also stir reflection and thought about you and your own life.
It’s been one heck of a year on the grand stage of world events. After Russia and Putin decided to re-enact the millennia of imperialism last year, everyone else decided it was time to go attacking or invading their neighbour – Gaza with a renewed attack on Israel and the ensuing counter, Venezuela deciding to go after Guyana, the Houthis deciding to go outside of Yemen and attack every boat that goes past, and a crazy number of coup and coup attempts. It really reminds me of World War 1 and World War 2, which all started because one person launched a major attack and then everyone else of a similar mindset decided to do the same.
Matt Perry died of drowning from supposed influence of medication, bands were once again touring in absolute full swing, the shades of COVID seem to be well and truly behind almost everyone now, and my city of Brisbane decided to cap the year off with a ridiculous heatwave followed by one of the most massive storm events in over 10 years.
It’s also been a huge year for entertainment. Whether you were Barbenheimer or otherwise, there were so many huge movies to come out this year and great TV shows. For me I was an Oppenheimer and wrote a piece on what I thought was its most poignant scene, and thanks to Christmas I have the Bluray to rewatch it ad nauseum.
Some other standouts for me this year were My Hero Academia Season 6 (my WORD), the One Piece live action done by Netflix, and a whole lot of great games – replaying Dead Cells, finally making it through a Final Fantasy 7 game for myself in FF7 Remake Intergrade on PC, and some staggeringly surprising new-ish releases in Immortals Fenyx Rising and Jedi Survivor.
Oh, and the amazing Super Mario Bros movie. My toddler loved it so much we have probably watched it about 43 times since it came out on Bluray on July 4 (yes I remember the date). Speaking of my toddler, Kiddo was finally old enough to really start enjoying playing games together this year and we had a blast playing Katamari Damacy AKA Roll, Super Mario Galaxy 2, A Hat In Time, and a bunch of other titles. Really a whole lot of fun and some of the best memories of the year coupled with all the great family outings we’ve had at so many places that are just really clicking with the mind now.
And oh gosh, the toddler. More on that later.
But not too much later, because it would be very hard to go too far without mentioning perhaps the main event of the year in that we had our second child this year. It was a goal of ours for 2023 to try to fall pregnant again, but we accidentally saw that fulfilled before we even got here. We are certainly very grateful for that and always mindful of the pregnancy journeys many couples go through and continue to go through.
It’s been a wonderful and terrible time at the same time. There were a lot of health challenges that ensued around this time and a whole lot of turmoil as well as greatness mixed in. I’ll zoom in a bit more as I go on.
Some other high level things this year – I was able to help successfully deliver another statewide project for a major government department and was really proud of my work on the project. I have concluded the year with that contract finishing and a new one starting with 2024 rolling around. On the professional front one of my great challenges this year was on keeping people accountable and having people ultimately prove responsibility for their own actions. More on that later as it also ties into the personal findings.
My wife and I continued to run a life group at our church and are so grateful for the great community and people they are. I was also very fortunate to get to MC another wedding reception this year for another couple in our group who tied the knot. I freaking love marriage.
We love being involved and staying involved and even through life with two kids, as hard as it is to stay connected, becoming disconnected is all the more difficult. I continue to watch couple after couple and individual after individual encounter severe challenges in their life, and if they don’t have community the issues become entrenched and terrible.
Without accountability, without support, without common vision and people spurring you on, you fall into weakness and despair. One of the great pastors I know, Karolina Grant, rightly says that you never reach a point in your life where you can graduate from service to others or accountability. Every single person I know who has ever attempted to dislodge one or both from their life is suffering for it, which is a great and avoidable shame.
I was also fortunate to continue volunteering in a leadership capacity on our Sunday night team and to support a great team of young leaders as they grow and develop the people under their care. I am looking to the new year with a bit of a question mark on this given my time challenges but I always want to be able to stay connected and involved as much as I can.
I’ve continued to write on Walking The Shoreline, albeit much less with a lot of the personal challenges that came up throughout this year. I do wish I had written more regularly this year and I’m hoping in 2024 that I’ll be able to return to a more regular cadence in the busyness of life. There’s been over 1 million visitors to this site and I’m so glad about it, and about to celebrate 10 years of Walking The Shoreline a few months into the new year as well. And hey, hope you’ve noticed the shiny new-ish redesign
One goal I was a bit disappointed to not quite be able to tick was purchasing our second home. After doing quite well financially and very content with where I’ve been able to get to into my career and investments and all that, it has been a bit of humble pie that I think most people have been eating besides us that we weren’t quite able to pull it off yet. The assessment rate continues to be quite high around 9-10% and that house price which everyone looking to buy was hoping to come down didn’t really come down at all. The demand did certainly fall but unfortunately so did the supply so the price was left in the well above one million range unless you move 30 sometimes 40~km from the centre of the city. One for the future for sure.
Oh yeah, I turned 35. The American Psychological Association and many other institutes like it define that as the start of “young middle age”, but everyone firmly denounces it being considered young adult any more for sure. I think I’ve felt the middle age mindset for quite a while anyway so I’m not sure of how many real changes there have been, but to deny any wouldn’t be practical. I’ve got more grey hair and I definitely notice I have less energy, one of my key frustrations for sure. But I feel like I still get to do most of the things I would have been doing, except now I actually have the money and wisdom to be able to see them fulfilled.
I think the reason so many people remain in denial about crossing the threshold into middle age is because it’s really the time that you’re out of excuses. You are now expected to be the one to not just make great decisions for yourself, but also for others. And if that is troubling or concerning for you, then getting older is going to become harder and harder.
One of my good mates Dan is a world class leader in business, theology, and faith, and in speaking to people our age he often says that when we were teenagers, we are all told and taught that we could go and change the world. He says that it’s a lot less likely for a teenager to actually be able to make the big changes that they want to – they have the time and the zeal, but don’t have the wisdom, experience, connections or resources to really see them fulfilled. But at our age – it’s a green light. This isn’t the time in life to shrink back and withhold – it is our time to make the difference we always wanted to make.
You have literally everything you need to do so.
John Eldredge in The Way Of The Wild Heart (AKA the best book on masculinity still in existence) describes this as the King stage of a man’s life, or Stage 5 out of 6. This is the time in a man’s life where he’s proven himself, he’s fought the battles, he’s made the connections, and in the prime of his life he uses his material, intellectual, spiritual and every other type of resource in his possession to make life better – for his wife, for his family, for his community, for his God, for his world.
I specifically remember praying a year or two ago under the stars and God telling me in this season of my life to be a father to fathers. I really do feel that calling and am feeling more and more settled into that purpose, in the same vein of keeping strong people strong. I pray I can really embrace all it is to use all I am for the ones around me.
As amazing as all these high level things are, I would have to say my greatest joy and my greatest challenge has been in the birth of our second child this year as I mentioned earlier, and coupled with a growing toddler. Having two under 3 years old has been wonderful and horrifying. Wonderful because watching them grow, hearing them laugh, being able to help grow their life and watch them read and learn and embrace the world is so beautiful. Horrifying because lack of sleep and the fact children’s brains can’t emotionally regulate until they are 4 years old is extremely challenging.
I am very grateful to live in a world where we have so many great resources available. I have to give double props again to the On Becoming Babywise series of books I wrote about in 10 Of My Favourite Baby Products As A New-ish Dad (So Far) a number of years ago, because we now have a second child sleeping at least 10 hours a night in the first few months of their lives.
I always tell people that getting married is like having a mirror follow you around all day. It’s confronting because your spouse is constantly able to reflect the truth of just how faithful, selfless, sensible or level headed you really are. Then having a child is like having a microscope follow you around all day.
Now having a second has been like having a continual fusion reaction or nuclear bomb in the house, with the potential of going off any moment. But I think children, like marriage, birthdays, Christmases and other big milestones or events, seem to put a huge amount of pressure on everyone that they’re around – the parents, the kids, the grandparents, the friends, the extended family.
And it’s been interesting, joyful, upsetting, and real to have the reality check of how people around our immediate family have responded to the new addition. Some have been overjoyed and super present and have literally done everything in their power for us, and it warms my heart greatly to know so many people love us and our kids in a very real and present way. Some have had their own personal issues or challenges flair up in response and have been confronted by the new addition to the tribe and the village, and some have taken it as a sign of their own personal failure or disappointment.
My wife also went through a pretty difficult set of health challenges at and after the birth, and I needed to take an extended period off work. Gladly of course – there’s nothing more important than my wife or kids in terms of people in my life. But still very challenging and difficult for everyone. I can still hear in my head and my heart the sound of my eldest crying out in the night wondering where mummy was when she was still in the hospital for a while. Necessary but so hard for a young mind to understand.
And I think in the reality of our growing family and indeed my own growing life, I have been reminded and confronted by a lot of encouraging as well as humbling reality checks this year – a number of which I also touched on earlier this year in 4 Things I’m Still Working on as a Dad.
I’ve been reminded that we need to let adults be adults. I mentioned this a bit professionally but I also saw this personally. That there are people no matter how many times you try to help them, reach them, want the best for them, they will make their own choices and blame you even though all objective truth highlights what is really happening. But ultimately, we will not be held responsible for the actions or inactions of others, but only our own. A lot of these people are too old, have been to too many conferences and seminars and read too many books and have had too many opportunities now to continue to make excuses.
I fully believe in grace and in journeying with people, but at the same time, you can’t force someone to do what they know they should. Especially a grown adult. Having two kids is reminding me that at these young ages they really need us to be fully active and available and invested in them, and I just can’t spend as much time trying to push along people who just don’t want anything to ever change.
I suppose when the centre of gravity in the seasons of your life change, there are those who will embrace it and those who can’t. I suppose in the same way that as the centre of gravity in their lives change, how have you yourself responded?
I’ve learned that as selfless a man I used to think I was and so many people would also tell me, that parenting two in marriage shows I still have a lot of work to do in this area. I suppose life is more seasonal though and selfless and faithful used to look very different when I was a younger man. I think God does that with your life – you are proven in one season of your life, then it changes and God asks “Okay, can you do it now? Can you do it now you’re married? Now with one kid? Now with two? Now when someone dies? Now when friends change season?”.
I hope that I can be found faithful in this new season and all the ones beyond it. I think I am still trying to work out exactly what faithfulness looks like at this middle aged family of four season when I still am called to help and serve others with what I know I’ve been given.
My MVP this year has to be my wife for sure. She is my secret weapon and an absolute superstar. She’s not as public or perhaps outspoken as I am, but she is a well of wisdom, patience and beauty and is a great mum to our kids and a great friend to everyone who knows her, including me. I think as your kids grow older it puts a new level of pressure on your marriage and we’ve certainly felt that this year, with a lot more need to apologise, forgive, and celebrate the wins than we’ve needed to in previous years. But I still love her with my whole heart and I am so honoured to be in her life.
As an aside, Google’s AI product, Bard fused with Gemini Pro, did a review of my blog for me and made a lot of very nice inferences about her in my writing. Even the AI can feel her presence in my writing and I hope you can too, cause her presence is sheer delight.
And what else have I learned? I’ve learned that lot of the great wisdom and advice I’ve heard and had instilled into me is absolutely true and even moreso as the seasons grow and life continues to change. I’ve learned faith without community is absolutely dead and lifeless, having continued to see so many who say they hold faith but don’t act it out who then go and hurt almost everyone they know.
And I’ve learned and been reminded that as much as life continues to change, God has a plan, a purpose, and a reason for my life and for your life and as tired I am as a parent or as busy I can be in my career or as diversified my interests and investments are sometimes with my attention and focus, I have been given a great responsibility to steward my life, my kids, my marriage, my church, my friendships and my community.
And so have you.
And I suppose my charge to myself and to yourself in looking through this 2023 in review and crossing the threshold into middle age is this – life isn’t over it. It’s prime time, baby. Not time to shrink. Not time to get old and die. Not time to fill your calendar exclusively with entertainment and distraction.
It’s time to reach out. Time to share what you’ve learned and been through. Time to give and pay and to help fund all the right causes. Time to stay connected. Time to build more relationships as people come and go, as they always will.
Time to remember who you are and to be that person with all your heart and soul and mind.
I’m hopeful for the new year. I’m grateful for the last year. And I look forward with eagerness for myself and my wife and my kids and also for you, dear friend, for what your life could look like as you embrace your calling and chase after all that God has for you.
Journeying with you.
How about you? Have you crossed the threshold into middle age? How is your 2023 in review?