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How To Avoid Sucking When You Get Older
Matt Foreman
May 15 2012

How many of you have seen a movie called Vision Quest? It’s a 1985 flick about a high school wrestler who wants to make his mark in life by accomplishing something huge, so he decides to drop two weight classes and challenge the toughest undefeated grappler in the state. Along the way, he falls in love for the first time and has to weave through all the confusion and frustration that go along with that. It’s a fantastic story about being young, about searching for a direction to go with the hunger you feel inside. The movie was made from a novel of the same name.

Several years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine named Mike Ng. He told me he read Vision Quest when he was a teenager, right around the time he was making the decision to become a weightlifter. I’ve never forgotten a comment he made about it. He said, “I think I read that book at the right time in my life.” I think what Mike meant was that he felt the same restless force in his heart as the book’s main character, Louden Swain. And like Louden, he made the choice to act on it by starting the journey of an athlete.

I had a cosmic moment recently, because I read something that had a similar effect on me. It’s a book called The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is a collection of essays that Scott wrote in the last years of his life, when he had basically wrecked everything for himself through a fifteen year period of alcoholism and irresponsibility. Here’s a guy who is generally considered one of the great writers in history. But he had a self-destructive personality, and he was completely aware of it. So he wrote about his downward spiral of failure while it was actually in progress. The saddest thing about it, in my opinion, is that the writing in these essays is spectacular. This guy’s talent never dulled, even when he hit rock-bottom. He was dead at forty-four, and this book makes it clear that years of greatness could have still been ahead of him.

I think I read this book at the right time in my life.

Scott was around forty when he wrote this stuff, you see. That’s about the same age as me, and many of you are probably in a similar range (if not, you will be some day). Now, don’t get excited and think I’m going to start giving you a bunch of juicy personal thoughts about having a mid-life crisis. I don’t think I’m having one. I don’t wear Affliction t-shirts. I don’t own a sports car I can’t afford. I don’t have frosted tips in my hair, and I have no plans to dump my wife for a young ditz. However, I have noticed that a lot of people get nervous when they start to close in on the big 4-0 milestone. They start to panic about getting old. I think it probably comes from a combination of sagging breasts, male pattern baldness, and a general fear that our biggest peak moments might have already happened.

If fear of aging gets to be too much for you, you can always crawl into a hole and hide. Alcoholism is a hole you can crawl into. Deliberately sabotaging your relationships with your loved ones is another one. Developing a crappy, hateful attitude towards everything and constantly complaining…that’s another hole. Every one of us probably knows somebody who’s in a hole right now, either the ones I mentioned or some other one they’ve engineered to avoid dealing with the years when life starts to change.

But you wanna know what? We’re not going to do any of that crap. We’re going to clear our heads right now and think about somebody we know who is over fifty and still kicking ass in something. These people are out there, and we’re all aware of them. I don’t care if it’s your coach, your mom, your favorite musician, somebody you saw on 60 Minutes, whoever. Just get a specific person in your mind who isn’t young anymore and hasn’t crawled into a hole. Instead, they’re still steamrolling their field. Go ahead, do it right now. I’ll wait…

A vision quest is a rite of passage, when a person makes spiritual decisions that will determine the journey they take in their lives. You don’t have to be nineteen to experience one, either. There is no better feeling in life than being at the beginning of something special, having a clear direction in your mind and knowing that there are victories ahead. The people you just thought of a minute ago? The reason they’re not in a hole is that they never stopped looking for new roads to travel, believing that they’ve still got more successes waiting for them. They’ve passed age milestones, just like we all will. But they handled these times by searching for something, making up their minds what they wanted, and then chasing it.

Your accumulating years aren’t baggage. They’re ammunition. You’re getting smarter and more experienced as life goes on, so don’t be afraid to look for a new focus if you start to feel like you’re cracking up. In fact, let’s all do it together. It’ll be more fun that way.
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May 15 2012

Great article. I know exactly what you are talking about. I'm going to save this and read it every once in a while.
May 15 2012
Another good one, Matt. I think that the times of quest are the meat of the human experience; however are not as romantic and "spiritual" as often described. Sometimes, one might not even know the significance of a period of growth until it is over. The lull that follows is a time for reflection and as you mentioned, contemplation of the next adventure. A few questions for you:
In what direction is your vision quest headed?
And, do you think that Fitzgerald knew he was still kicking ass despite being a mess?
P.S.- You're one of those people kicking ass- but you know it, eh?!
Matt Foreman
May 15 2012
Thanks for the kind words, Sri and Katie. Katie, I think what drives me is just continuing to be a weightlifter. Over the last couple of years, I've discovered that I still love doing it even though I'll probably never get back to my top lifts. As long as I can keep training and competing (at any level), my motor will keep running. I also happen to love my job, which is probably one of the best blessings anybody can have. As for Scott, I think he considered himself a failure, and that feeling just kept snowballing. It's a sad story because his accomplishments are still powerful seventy years after his death.
May 16 2012
I'm a parkour practitioner myself, and turn 40 in June. I think I read this at the right time. Good words. Thank you.
Jim B
May 16 2012
I'm only 30 and I've thought about how my training will change in the next 10, 20, 30 years. There's no avoiding that change, so instead of sticking our heads in the sand we can look for these new victories. Love the post. Let's all keep steamrolling.
May 16 2012
I can totally relate. At 36 I was 299 lbs, smoked a pack a day, and was hopelessly addicted to alcohol and painkillers. I hit bottom when I quit digging the hole. I just celebrated 2 yrs clean. I weigh 200 lbs and feel amazing. I don't know if it was a mid-life crisis. I do know that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Geoff H
May 16 2012
Hah! 40, you're a young whippersnapper (UK expression), I'm 55 and still going strong (well not quite) :-)
Freddy Camacho
May 16 2012
I'll be sharing this with my fellow brothers in blue. I know so many who are digging into a hole and they are still working the streets. The suicide rate for retired cops is ridiculously high. Thanks Matt.
Greg Everett
May 16 2012
Matt, tell me you've seen The Soul is Greater than the World - the movie about Ricky Bruch. Between that and Vision Quest, I could stay pumped forever.
Matt Foreman
May 16 2012
That's a movie about a thrower Greg, I'm impressed! Yeah, I've had to watch it in sections on the internet over the years. Pretty wild guy. I wish I could have trained with him just to see what it was like.
May 17 2012
There's a 60 yr old dude at my gym. I see him-Deadlifting 225lbs for 5 sets of 5 every week. He's had back surgery, gotten over cancer & is still lifting. Definitely inspiring.
May 18 2012
I'm 42 and have a lot of things I want to do. I will be headed to South East Asia soon to study martial arts. I also have plans to travel to at least 22 more countries over the next few years. I'm still gonna get my sports car and another girlfriend(s) half my age.
May 19 2012
I love this article. At 44 I feel the best times in my life are ahead of me. I am the happiest I have ever been. I love my wife and kids. I became a better husband and father around 40. I am no longer chasing the accolades or trying to earn my stripes. In my job now I travel the world and get to do things you only read about in books or see on TV. Life is GREAT and is only getting better with age!
May 20 2012
Heh heh, I like Greg Searle, he's not setting new and challenging targets at age 40. He's just going for the same old target that he went for (and hit) when he was 20: an Olympic gold medal in Rowing
September 5 2014
Woah. Nice article. It's like your intelligent and stuff.
Brian P
September 9 2014
I'm 65 workout at jym 4 times a week...bench 90 to 200 kg..clean &press up to 80kg.
I'm not a trained Olympic lifter....i just do it for the joy of it.I also swim & do hard cardio.Ride my thoroughbred x racehorse at weekend.
Going back to university to complete Msc. Peace and conflict studies......What's a midlife crisis anyway??
September 15 2014
I'm over 60 now, but thankfully I've been cross fitting for 5 yrs. I can dig holes pretty easily, was doing today. Thanks, I'll keep this handy.
October 1 2014
I am a 64 year old woman and I LOVE lifting and am stronger than I ever have been. I don't plan on quitting any time soon. I am so grateful to be doing this at my age.
Marilyn Chychota
July 15 2015
I'm approaching 40 and new to lifting, but I've been in sports a long time. I'm considered pretty old athletically( a lot of miles overall athletically in these limbs).
I find as I'm getting older I'm not any different than I was when I was in my 20's. Mentally I'm more mature , I'm wiser about choosing when to go hard and when to just chill out, but for the most part I find I'm able to train just as hard as I did in my 20's. Maybe that will change in my 50's. For now I'm enjoying the ride :)
Gary Echternacht
July 15 2015
I know a couple of people who began doing a sport when they were quite young and continued to do that sport continuously for many many years. In their older years, as I recall they were relatively much better than they were in their younger years. I admire people like that. I could never do it. Some of us thrive on development and need change to keep our interest up. We love to learn. We love to see ourselves get better whether it is in our working life or our sporting life. It is just who we are.

As a young man I was a weightlifter. In my young 30s I took up running marathons and evolved into a bicycle racer. Coached track for a while, came back to weightlifting for a short time, and then of all things at age 50 began to dance though I was incredibly ignorant about dance. Began with ballroom, but quickly moved to ballet, modern, jazz, and flamenco. A couple of years ago I began weightlifting again though I remain a dancer. Those are all examples of cycles of development. Still learning, which makes it all worthwhile.

Lifted weights this morning. Dance class tomorrow late afternoon. This Saturday I turn 71.

July 16 2015
I am 50 and in the best shape ever. I don't plan on quitting either. CrossFit has helped but really I know that a new goal, one that seems impossible now but doable in a few years, keeps me moving forward. So, come on 60, 70, 80...I'm ready!
July 19 2015
Great stuff as always Matt!!! I have to say that the past 4 years of learning the lifts from a quality coach, eventually competing locally, being exposed to passion and commitment of the mostly younger lifters is a path I would've never imagined 20 years or 10 years ago. A very inspiring bunch which is key for me as the competitive road gets narrower and filled with more pot holes.
July 20 2015
Speak up at 55...60. Things change. They just do. The goal is to keep fighting and never give up. When it gets tough. ..get creative!
September 9 2016
I'm 40 and have been doing CrossFit for 3 years. Physicaly, I know (and my lab tests know better) that I'm in the best shape of my life, along with a beautiful wife and a growing career as a surgeon. I must say that I'm living the best moment of my life, but the important thing is to keep feeling this feeling and repeat this frase no matter the age or problems ahead: "I'm living the best moment of my life"
November 16 2016
Thank you for this article... last night I was thinking about my age (46) and how we lose our vision quest through the years. Time to find it again. I read this at the right time.