with

Mike Bellah

My words are not those of an expert on but a veteran of midlife struggles.

 

 

 

 

I've spent most of my 48 years in the same Texas Panhandle town where my great-grandparents arrived as pioneer settlers nearly a century ago.

 

 

 

 

I write to those of us who struggle with adult disappointment because of a promise I made to myself as a disappointed teen.

My Qualifications

 Someone once asked me what qualifications I have for writing this column. I think my answer surprised them. Here is what I said.

A veteran

In the first place, I am not an expert on aging or midlife. My academic studies have centered not in psychology or sociology, but in theology, English literature, and communication. I am more familiar with Shakespeare than Freud. Besides, I think of experts as people who know human behavior primarily because they read about or observe it (both needful things, but not my primary methodology).

 My words are not those of an expert on but a veteran of midlife struggles. I can write about the midlife crisis because I muddled through one. I know about career changes because I'm in the middle of one. I write about lives that are too busy, too anxious, and too obsessed with the trivial because mine sometimes is. Similarly, the gains and joys of midlife (and there are many) are not something I learned in a book, I am living them.

A small town perspective

Sometimes I feel guilty because my column doesn't include a wide variety of experience. I would love to talk about the midlife struggles of single working mothers in New York City, and I sympathize with the plight of unemployed middle-aged black men living in Chicago's inner city. But the truth is I've never been to New York City and only have visited Chicago once. Outside of living for a short stint in Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles (way too many people in one spot for me), I've spent most of my 48 years in the same Texas Panhandle town where my great-grandparents arrived as pioneer settlers nearly a century ago.

So my perspective on life comes mostly through my small town window. I console myself with the thought that whether you are fighting rush-hour traffic and pollution in the city, or wind and drought in West Texas, problems are problems and people are people. Besides, the only ones who believe in the Mayberry-like innocence of small towns are disillusioned city dwellers. Small town people know that America's struggles are not limited to its cities.

A promise to myself

When I was a young teen, I contracted a bad case of stage fright. They have a name for it now; it's called communication apprehension (the fear of speaking in front of people), and one in five Americans experiences it to some degree.

Mine was a severe case. I became unable to talk in unbroken phrases to even a circle of friends. Sometimes I would open my mouth, and nothing would come out. My parents sent me to psychologists and psychiatrists, all to no avail. It was then I made a promise to myself that if ever I found hope for the despair I was in, I would share it with everybody that would stand still long enough to listen.

For the last 25 years--as a youth camp director, a pastor, a seminar speaker, and now a college teacher and columnist--I've been trying to keep my promise.

My last qualification for this job is my most compelling one. It has to do with my passion for my readers and my topic. I write to those of us who struggle with adult disappointment because of a promise I made to myself as a disappointed teen. And this column is about what eventually got me through my struggle with communication apprehension, the same thing that's getting me through midlife. This column is about hope.

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