A Milestone and Mastering One’s Life

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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17 Responses

  1. Miss Mary says:

    What does Acuff say about your 50s? What comes after mastering? Quitting? Death? There’s so much life after your 40s!Report

    • zic in reply to Miss Mary says:

      In my experience, once you’ve gained mastery, you become highly productive at what you’ve mastered (this is true for both my husband and I). For women, double-plus so, since they’re time is less encumbered by children and by hormonal flux. I recognize now the beginnings of a time were it will also be more and more difficult to learn new things, in part, because we’ve already learned so much, and it’s almost too much noise. Curmudgeonlyness must root here, I think.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Miss Mary says:


      Acuff calls your 50s ‘harvesting’. You are reaping the benefits of Mastering. You make the most money in your career, see your children become (hopefully) successful adults, enjoy the fruits of a skilled hobby, your spouse and friends enrich your life, etc. Your 60s are Teaching where you share your knowledge with others.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Miss Mary says:

      “What does Acuff say about your 50s? What comes after mastering? ”

      I think one goes fishing. Or at least that’s how I understood it.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Miss Mary says:

      At least in my case, “starting over”. Put me up as a poster child for the old tech saying, “If you’re 45 and not running your own business, you’re one acquisition away from never working in your field again.” That might not have been entirely true, but I wasn’t willing to move across the country. Some good luck and good planning left me in a position with choices. So I got another masters degree (public policy), worked for the state legislature for three sessions, and have been doing research on a different class of complex systems than I used to work on. I’ve done things I probably wouldn’t have done if the layoff hadn’t happened.

      OTOH, re this recent University of Manchester study, I wouldn’t say that it made me less trusting, but after a dozen years I still occasionally wake up from a panicky laid-off nightmare.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I’d never heard that one before. I’ve been lucky with acquisitions in that sense: sometimes they’ve been awful places to work, but they’ve always wanted to keep the engineering staff around.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I’ve not heard that one before either.

        (And 45 is fast approaching!)

        I’ve lucked into the whole “it’s better to be okay at three or four things than awesome at one” paradigm right around the time that the excesses of outsourcing spun around and started biting the major companies in the butt. When management looked at the bottom lines and downtimes and whatnot, they started listening to the really, really smart guys when they said “we need some merely smart guys THAT WE CAN TRUST to act as our pair of hands.”

        Being the guy that could talk to the sys admins *AND* the security folks *AND* the application folks *AND* translate to management allowed me to be useful.

        I know that I’ll never be a millionaire (let alone a billionaire) but I think I can always be useful to the millionaires until somebody ushers in the whole singularity thing. The singularity will require sys admins, security folks, application folks, and management, after all.Report

      • Some of it’s generic — Slashdot seems to find one of the professional societies making the same complaint every six months or so, although I think those are down to about 35 years old. Some of it’s Denver — a long history of booms and busts, but almost no one wants to move away when the bust happens (Gov. Hickenlooper is an oil geologist techie who didn’t want to leave). Some of it was industry specific — the cable industry was mature and going through a huge consolidation wave, and one of the goals of every acquisition was to be able to fire hundreds of engineers (as we often said, if the press release says “efficiency”, that means they’re going to fire all the acquired engineers). Some of it was me — I had spent 15 years building a rep as a generalist who could deal with lots of aspects of the tech, but the industry had moved into an era where every open position was for a specialist.Report

  2. Rufus F. says:

    I actually read that book because you recommended it, Mike. I like the things he has to say, although his style isn’t quite to my liking. I turned 40 in October and have to say that I get the idea about mastering. I’m finding myself really impatient when it comes to doing anything but music or writing these days. Work is just a complete waste of time. I envy people who spent their 30s editing their lives instead of being edited.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Rufus F. says:


      Luckily I went through my career crisis from 38-39 so that is off my plate at the moment. The other stuff is a lot more fun to focus on.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    My favorite thing about my 40’s is how much less drama I have. Oh, I still have drama! But compared to my 30’s (or, God Forbid, my 20’s)?

    The word “boring” is an epithet in one’s youth but, I’m finding, it’s a superlative in one’s middle.Report

  4. zic says:


    Looking back, (and I believe I’ve said this before here,) I see:

    20’s — search for self, what I want to do with life;

    30’s — comfortable in own skin, understood the things I wanted to master;

    40’s — less concerned with other’s opinions as I gained mastery and confidence in it;

    50’s — application of mastery, most productive age, strong impulse to teach others, unafraid of (and often welcoming) constructive criticism. There is also a sense that time, now, is very limited, and the most precious commodity.Report

  5. krogerfoot says:

    I’m glad you wrote this, and glad I read it. I also realized that it was time to decide what to focus on. I’m 46 and about to get divorced and lose everything, which doesn’t really bother me that much—then again, I might be in denial (no, no, surely that’s not it). I’m looking forward to going back to square one, but it will mean a lot more work and a lot less free time, and I don’t want to spend my dwindling years staring at a screen.

    My struggle in deciding which hobby to put away and which to keep is this: I was a full-time musician in my 20s and continued making records and playing in bands up until about five years ago or so. Even if I have to sell half of it, I still have a ridiculous quantity of instruments and gear for recording, etc. Then, for the last few years, I’ve spent my free time learning 3-D computer design. It is purely a hobby, with no application to my work or potential as a career—I’m not that good at it, it’s just fun.

    Both pursuits are time-consuming and (mostly) solitary. I’m probably a better musician than I ever will be a designer. Writing songs and so forth is not something I enjoy, but the payoff of performing them for people who could throw garbage at me in response but choose not to does afford some satisfaction. CAD, on the other hand, is as much fun as I’ve had in the past few years, but there is no payoff and means sitting and staring at a screen. CAD as a topic makes people’s eyes glaze over, but everyone has an opinion about music. Music could get me out of the house from time to time, but only if I can force myself to keep up my end of things, practicing and writing and finding gigs, whereas CAD as a hobby is the equivalent of wearing sweatpants in public.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to hijack the thread. I just meant to write the first sentence but then kind of jabbered on. But maybe this is a good place to leave this, if anyone has any advice for me. Or wants to throw garbage.Report

  6. Tod Kelly says:

    This Donald Justice poem, one of my favorites by him, is must-read for anyone about to turn 40.

    Men at forty
    Learn to close softly
    The doors to rooms they will not be
    Coming back to.

    At rest on a stair landing,
    They feel it
    Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
    Though the swell is gentle.

    And deep in mirrors
    They rediscover
    The face of the boy as he practices tying
    His father’s tie there in secret

    And the face of that father,
    Still warm with the mystery of lather.
    They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
    Something is filling them, something

    That is like the twilight sound
    Of the crickets, immense,
    Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
    Behind their mortgaged houses.Report