This is the first instalment of a special project I started when I turned 50. It’s called Fifty X50 and my intention is to profile 50 different people who are all going through the exact same thing I am going through, being 50 years old.
My first profile is Steve Lambert
A month before I turned 50, I ran my fastest ever half marathon. For four years I’d been trying to break an hour thirty. Finally did it, with eight seconds to spare at the age of 49 and 11 months and change. And then I turned 50 and ever since then I’ve been battling nagging injuries. Nothing major, I’ve been in good health most of my life, but stuff that prevents me from running. And I’ve had to pull out of a couple of races because of sore hips, an IT band issue. I noticed 40 was where the metabolism dropped and it seems easier to put on weight after 40. That’s one of the reasons I started distance running.
I’ve learned as I got older is that you play the long game. the people who just don’t always hold themselves to a high standard don’t last. They might have a short-term gain. They might have a real nice “gotcha” story. But your reputation is everything, and at 50, I can think that– I hope that you develop a reputation where people think you’ll be fair, that you’ll act in good faith. And as you get older, your reputation good or bad, gets more and more established. Sometimes I’ll be trying to get and interview with somebody – they’re reluctant to talk to the media – but if they know somebody who I’ve dealt with for a long time, that reputation, that word of mouth thing, can help.
I always try to be appreciative of the good things I’ve been given. We Gen-Xers, in some cases, we’ve been given a raw deal, but I think we have it a lot easier than the Millennials. We benefited from some of the huge benefits that the Baby Boomer generation had – cheap housing , cheap tuition. Jobs were an issue, there weren’t a lot of job opportunities. It took me a while to get a job. But we enjoyed, again, some of the benefits. When we got into the work force, there were still defined benefit pensions, for example. There was still a belief in longevity with one company or two or three, but it wasn’t this über economy that today’s kids are getting into. And on the flip side, we made our stupid youthful mistakes before the internet. So we were in a sort of sweet spot in that sense, in that you’d go skinny dipping and nobody had a camera phone around you.
the nice thing about being 50 is that you’ve survived the sleep-deprived 30s and early 40s when your kids are waking up in the middle of the night. You can’t get a good night’s sleep. You’re worried your kid’s going to not survive because they’re this tiny bundle of thing. You’ve made it through all that and your kids are getting lives of their own. So 50 is nice in that way, in that you start sort of having more space to yourself that you haven’t had since pre-kids.
And a challenge as I hit 50 was that I’d spent so much time raising kids, my wife and I just in the family, raising kids, being there all the time, going to every event, always being a parent that you lose yourself a bit. And it’s only in the last two, three years that I’ve really been able to find the time and make an effort to get in touch with friends and have a life outside my marriage that is more than just like once a month going out with the guys. Now it’s more like I can explore activities, I can have hobbies again that I can do regularly, which I haven’t been able to do when my kids were young. You’re used to make the kids breakfast, get them to school, go to work, come back from work. It’s a rush and you’ve got only this much time that you forget how to just enjoy the expense of free time and how to live in the moment and enjoy three hours that you might have sitting on a rock by the Forks, as opposed to having 10 chores that you have to do in the next half hour, and get the kids to bed and bathed and stuff. I’d almost forgotten what that was like and so I’m re-learning, at this stage, how to have that free time and have space and time for me.
50 is a good rest area on the road to your retirement, where you think, “Okay, what am I going to do the next 10 or 15 years? I’ve got a little more time now. The financial insecurity of being 20 and 30 is behind me. I’ve got a little more time, a little more money. So, what do I like to do?” And reconnecting with, “I have the time and I have the money. What is it I like to do? And what is it I like to do that’s good for me [laughter]?” Because you can like to do all sorts of things that are bad for you.
I don’t know if I’d retire full time. If I’m still healthy, what I thought might be doable is to job share, with some poor post-millennial who’s coming onto the job market. Because these poor guys and gals, they don’t have– they’re going into small workplaces or they’re contracting to do things on their own. They’re not going into a workplace where they’re being mentored on site, where they’re working alongside somebody who might have 30 years. For the most part, people are coming in and not getting a lot of on-the-job training. Or they’re just making mistakes as they go and learning that way. At least in the media, when I started out, you would go into a newsroom and there would be a big newsroom. And there would be young people and old people and middle aged people. And there was always somebody even on a beat. If you would go to city hall, there would be another person from your media outlet at city hall and you would learn from that person. So I see myself, health permitting, being able to spend two, three days a week job-sharing with somebody younger, teaching them the ropes. If all goes well. But it’s a nice age because you can start planning your exit from the work force, whether you want to exit full time or not. And also plan retirement, and what are you going to do with all this free time.
My wife and I were talking about that. It’s like, “Could we do freedom 55?” And we could probably retire at 55 and live like church mice and be okay. But we’ve been working all our lives. We’ve been working towards something. So we’re thinking holidays, travel, a second property.
So we’re working towards something like that. And so now it’s a juggling thing. If we want a certain lifestyle, then it’s not freedom 55, and it’s 60, perhaps later. And I do want to plan– I could probably work beyond 60, but I don’t want to have to work beyond 60. I would like to be in a position where financially I could drop out, if my health goes south, if the kids have problems, if I’m required elsewhere I would like to be able to work part time or retire.
I’ve tried to tell my kids, and it came to me fairly late in life, that the key to happiness, for me, is to be a nice person, a positive person and to surround yourself with nice and positive people. When my kids started school years and they were having trouble, even in elementary school. I kept telling them, “Surround yourself with nice positive people and be a nice positive person yourself, and you just get in this loop of positive feedback, of positive emotion and of confidence. That you’ve got friends who’ve got your back, that sort of thing. So that’s one thing I try to live by and with age comes the confidence that if there is a really negative person in your life you don’t have to deal with them.
There are people who don’t like what I write, and for the most part, we agree to disagree. And it’s only in very rare instances but these things add up – five, six times over 26 years -where people feel they’ve been very, very wronged, and they’re after you, and you’ll produce the tape at the interview and say, “No, look. I’m correct.” and they won’t back down. You just try to be reasonable, and if you’re confident that you’re in the reasonable ground, and you’re trying to be accepting of their point of view but not accepting of pure fiction or false accusations, then you can feel pretty good. And again, it’s that age thing where you’ve been through it a lot and you know yourself more at 50.
I think the biggest challenge has been being a parent, like just keeping a family together because parenting is so draining, especially when the kids are very little, and you’re completely sleep deprived, and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, and your partner doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing, and you’re figuring this out on the go, and it’s all very stressful. That was a stressful time, when the kids were young. And my wife and I have been together– our first date was 30 years ago next month. So marriage is work family is work and when you add in the sleep deprivation and the stress of not knowing what you’re doing when you’re a new parent, that was probably the biggest challenge.
Second biggest challenge was establishing my career. Six months after graduation, I was ready to give up, manage my friends band and hit the road, when I got a call from a radio station in Yellowknife. And I’d spent all my life in Montreal. So getting that first job was a real challenge. But then it turned out to be a tremendous opportunity. Tremendous culture shock going to Yellowknife, seeing a completely different part of the country. And when you’re young and you’re working your way up the first job is the hardest to get, the second job is almost as hard to get, third job is a little easier. It took me about four or five jobs to was earning decent money. And I knew the whole time that I would have to claw my way up the ladder, to get decent pay where I could afford a family. Because my wife and I had always wanted a family, we wanted kids. And at one point I told her, “Look, I want to earn–” I forget what the dollar amount was back then, I think it was about $40,000 or $45,000. I said, “Look, I want to earn $40,000 a year before we have kids so we can feed them [chuckles]. And she said – this is shortly after university – she said, “Just admit you don’t want kids then [chuckles].
We moved a lot. In four years we moved from Montreal to Yellowknife to Brandon so Saskatoon to Edmonton to Ottawa. Different health cards, different drivers licenses every time. Every six, seven months we were in a different province or territory. It was exciting. My wife really liked it. She was in law school at the time, so she had to repeat her second year of law twice. So she did it, and repeated it, and then repeated it in different schools because we were moving around. And eventually, she graduated law school in Edmonton and I was in Halifax by that time. So that was a challenge, too. But in the end, it got us – by the mid-’90s I was in a good place. And it felt like a long time but it was only it was only six years after I graduated, and five years after I had started in the field.
There’s a resiliency that comes with age. You realize that you’ve survived these things that you’ve faced. And that gives you confidence that you can survive what lies ahead.
I think I worried too much when I was younger, and there is a certain wisdom and calmness that comes with age that you think a little setback is deadly and you go from emotional highs to emotional lows, and you think that oh it’s going to be great, then something happens and it’s going to be awful. And I think with age things smooth out
Steve Lambert is a Winnipeg -based journalist.