Next Avenue Logo

How I Learned to Stop Freaking Out and Love Being Middle-Aged

Growing older makes it easier to take life's ups and downs in stride

By Peter Gerstenzang

There are plenty of things I do not like about growing older.

Take my eyesight, for instance. These days, after fruitlessly trying to read the credits on a CD, I immediately get on WebMD and look up the early warning signs of glaucoma. Which, ironically, I also can’t read.

When I sit down in a chair, my knees crack so loudly, I sound like I’m playing castanets for the Tosca Tango Orchestra. And when I stand back up, that’s no bargain either.

Still, there’s one really positive change about being a middle-aged man: I just don’t seem to freak out much anymore.

Staying calm amid life’s little storms is pretty priceless. That more than makes up for cracking knees, graying temples, and having to put on glasses that make me look like a stand-in for Mr. Magoo.

I bet you remember freaking out. I sure do. Like when my history teacher would suddenly announce a pop quiz. My heart would race, sweat would form around my hairline and all I could remember was the date for The Battle of Hastings. Which is of absolutely no use when you’ve been studying the Vietnam war.

I recall panicking about everything from my face breaking out to getting into college to having to go for an actual job interview. Then when I thought my face was about to break out again. That was the day my roommate opened the hallway closet and found me inside, in my overcoat, hyperventilating.

This was my supposedly carefree youth.

What, Me Worry?

Speaking of freaking out over jobs, who can ever forget the first time they were fired? That’s a situation that brings with it untold amounts of anxiety. You shiver, you shake, your heart beats faster than the drums on a Ramones record.

The first time it happened to me, I was 24 and so panicked that when I left my office, I acted like a wild animal that had escaped from the zoo and needed to be shot in the butt with a tranquilizer dart for everyone’s safety.

My fear increased when I realized I was going to be late with my rent that month and had to tell my landlord, Mr. Johansson. Who was a big, blond, terrifying-looking guy. Hulk Hogan without the charm or large vocabulary.

I remember knocking on his door, going in and telling him I’d just lost my job and needed some extra time to pony up. Mr Johansson stared at me for a second. I stood there, catatonic with fear, sure this Goliath was going to throw me out the window without first bothering to open it. Then he smiled sympathetically and said, “I’ve been there. Pay me me when you can, Peter.”


I can’t remember if I cried or kissed him. I do remember chuckling inwardly at how I’d built this whole scenario up in my head and it was nothing like the way I had imagined it.

I’d like to say this was the last time I freaked out. It wasn’t. But each meltdown seemed to be less molten, a little cooler. I know why. It has to do with the part of aging that is actually OK. Certainly better than having to ask someone younger to read you the credits from the DVD of 50 Shades of Gray.

Get Fired, Go to the Movies

Middle-age brings a little something called perspective. I’m no longer the frightened kid who’s lost his first job and is scared to death. A year later after I lost my first job, I lost my second. And I discovered it was a little easier.

I also found out that if you’re impatient, and keep clicking “print” on your office computer, you can end up with 247 copies of a memo. Which might not go over well with a staff of five and may result in getting fired. But I digress. The point is: This time, I panicked for 15 minutes, then went and caught a movie.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about life, it’s that for everything you lose, you get something back.

In the negative column, I’m definitely slower. If you want to time me when I go running, you better use a calendar. Occasionally, I forget the names of ballplayers or politicians. But I also stay calm now in the middle of emergencies. This is what psychologists call a “tradeoff.” And, the way I see things, it’s totally worth it.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I just realized I pushed the “print” button on my computer too many times. And will probably be fired soon. I should start looking at the want ads. Does anybody know where I left my Mr. Magoo glasses?

Peter Gerstenzang is a humorist, video director and journalist. Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2023 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo