with

Mike Bellah

There are people in my house that don't belong here; most of my furniture is crammed into my basement, and my wife and I are camping out in a small room with a daybed intended for single overnight guests.



 
 
 
 
 
 

However, we put up with the inconveniences of home remodeling because of the expected pay-offs.



 
 
 
 
 
 

Similarly, my midlife transition has, at best, completed stage one.

Remodeling is Messy Work

There are people in my house that don't belong here; most of my furniture is crammed into my basement, and my wife and I are camping out in a small room with a daybed intended for single overnight guests (we take turns sleeping on the trundle where one is periodically trampled by a sleepy spouse in search of the light switch).

You guessed it. We're remodeling. Since the kids have moved out and I've finally settled in a new career, we've decided it's time for some overdue updates ("Shag carpet," my wife tells me, "went out with disco and leisure suits").

And it's occurring to me that house remodeling is much like the remodeling of a life, something we might refer to as the midlife transition. Let me explain.

messy work

Remodeling is messy work. I am told that the thin layer of white powder, settling like a dusting of snow over the entire front half of my house, is the byproduct of some necessary preparations. We could avoid the dust, but flaws in our walls would remain noticeable beneath the new layers of paint.

Similarly, the reconstruction associated with midlife--perhaps building a new career, a new exercise or dietary routine, or maybe a new hobby or ability--is messy business. One may have to camp out for a while with new friends, new challenges, new hopes, and, perhaps, new pains or fears.
 
 

However, we put up with the inconveniences of home remodeling because of the expected pay-offs: the joy of creating something we can benefit from on a regular basis (a ceiling fan for hot summer nights) or the even greater joy of sharing these improvements with others (a pot belly stove that can warm both body and soul of family gathered around it). 

I thought about it this week as I held mock trials in my Comp I classes. The exercise, designed to help students learn different modes of persuasion, usually results in a good deal of laughter and class camaraderie. Times like these make me glad I'm a teacher and glad I stuck out those lonely nights in the graduate school library to get here.

imperfect work

Yet I don't want to give the impression that either my house update or my life update is progressing without glitches. Sometimes it takes more than one try to get things right. With some things, we've had to repaint and even to repaint the repainting.

And Murphy's Law is alive and well. Everything is taking longer and costing more than expected. We've had to extend deadlines (which means more nights on the trundle), and we've had to adjust expectations (my landscaping plans will have to wait for another year). 

Similarly, my midlife transition has, at best, completed stage one. I do have a new career for which I am genuinely grateful. But I still don't have all the skills I need to do my best in that career. I want to learn Latin. I need to update my computer skills, and I haven't read a tenth of the literature I need to know.

That's only my educational deficits. I have social, familial, and spiritual goals for my second half of life, too, and I'm behind schedule with all of them. Yet my remodeling project has given me new hope. By the time you read this, I'll be back in my own bed, proof that consistent effort--even though messy and imperfect--pays off. 

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