Am I Past My Prime?

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Unless it makes us weaker…

Danni Michaeli, MD
Crow’s Feet
5 min readAug 9, 2023

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Photo by Cash Macanaya on Unsplash

A friend and I were discussing another guy we know, and how he stopped exercising altogether. My friend chalked it up to age.

“Let’s face it, we’re all past our prime.”

Whoa. Am I past my prime?

At face value, what he’s saying seems obvious. We’re hovering around 60, which, by any estimation, means we’ll soon be looking at middle age in the rearview mirror if they don’t figure out how to transfer our consciousnesses into our robotic bodies soon.

But still, I had to take a deep dive into that thought. I mean, my friend and I were having this discussion during a training run for a triathlon!

I have a shoulder injury. At least, that’s what people will call it. I don’t know what’s wrong with my shoulder exactly, but it hurts when I move it in certain ways. I have a pain in my shoulder. Because I’m a doctor, I’m pretending that I know how to manage my condition, though, in reality, we don’t learn anything about shoulders in medical school. Even if we did learn it, I don’t remember anything about the human shoulder. I’m past my prime, after all!

Because of this pain, I’m limited in the kinds of exercise I can do and will allow myself to do for fear of aggravating the pain. But I keep showing up for exercise because it’s part of my identity. It matters to me to be fit.

An interesting byproduct of my pain is my awareness of how subtle movements can cause it to hurt more or hurt less. Even the way I breathe or hold my head affects it. Without the pain, I wouldn’t be aware of this, or rather, I’d never really pay attention to the subtlety of how certain movements cause different experiences. My pain is creating something new for me, and because of that, I’m experimenting with new movements, new adaptations.

This represents the best of humanity.

When we pay attention to our challenges and develop workarounds, we learn increasing subtleties about ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes, we’ll generalize those insights and apply them to other areas of being, and through all that, the world changes. That’s why we humans live so differently from ancient humans. Millennia of engagement with challenges have inspired us to manifest the best of ourselves to create new possibilities. We developed new skills, new comforts, new technologies, and even new toys and games.

Modern humans showed up 300,000 years ago. We started using a written language like the one you’re reading now 5,000 years ago, which means that it took 295,000 years for the first person to suggest, “WRITE IT DOWN” (and often it seems like it’ll take 295K more for my son to learn the same lesson!) We didn’t learn to write it down until we turned 295,000.

The written language, like everything else humans created, was designed to serve a purpose and to meet a challenge. We created a powerful new tool that we couldn’t imagine living without and we’re the better for it. But like everything new, the written language has created its own problems, such as barriers for certain learners and masses of fakery and lies. Now we’re working to create new things to deal with those new problems. Again, it’s bringing out the best of us.

Is it true that any circumstance befalling a person can be used in this way, as an opportunity for something new? What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? In some way, absolutely yes, though that feels like an oversimplification of life itself, and disrespectful of the terrible events some of us go through.

A few years ago, my 3-year-old son and I were struck by a car while crossing the street. We were almost killed but walked away with only a few scratches. It seems crazy that these two possibilities should both be true for the same event, but that’s how close two opposing outcomes can exist next to each other.

I’m physically fine, but my mind goes there all the time. I cross the street anxiously now, especially when I’m with my kid. When I’m riding my bike, I remember that day. It circulates in my mind, the possibilities of what might have happened. Sometimes I actually start crying.

Could I turn this into something empowering? Sometimes, because of this memory, I hug my kid more deeply and tell him how much I love him. That’s a win, but one that comes with a wince of emotional pain that runs through my body. Does all that add up to something empowering? I’d give it a qualified yes, which is healthier than a hard no.

What doesn’t kill us can make us stronger, but can also make us weaker.

As we age, through cellular decay and accumulated injuries, we are weakening in a lot of parameters; no mental gymnastics can counter that fact.

So am I past my prime? I’m not as fast or as strong or as sharp or as cute as I used to be. But I’m more remarkable than ever, and I am more in awe of what I’ve been able to navigate through, accept, learn, and create for myself than ever before.

Honestly, there are so many things I can’t do because of this shoulder thing, I’m really shocked by how much it’s setting me back. But from wherever I am today, I’m slowly getting stronger, more capable again. My injury gives me a reset, and from my new starting point, I’m progressing. My injuries and losses inspire mourning and confusion, but my gains and accomplishments accumulate as well into a feeling of pride and conviction which I didn’t have access to without the wisdom of age and experience. All told, maybe I’m in my prime.

I’m still waiting for my son to learn to write it down if he wants to remember the things he needs to get done. But he’s only 8, so maybe when he’s 295,000, comfortably in his new robotic body, he’ll become the best of himself and finally figure it out. He’ll be getting closer and closer to his prime.

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Danni Michaeli, MD
Crow’s Feet

A psychiatrist and a dreamer, I'm always listening for the magic and wondering what we're all doing here.....