Don’t Lose Focus on the Details (or, If You Do, Get New Glasses)

Reading_glassesI don’t look or feel that much different than I did two, five, even ten years ago. In fact, I look better now, thanks to having grown out some questionable haircuts and dropped gluten from my diet. Certainly, no worse for the wear. I still get carded (wherein I blush and make a fuss).

But there’s one area that is aging right on cue: My eyes. They, seem to be losing their ability to focus. Like the rest of me.

I’ve been wearing glasses since I was in the second grade, when Orphan Annie had her own line of plastic lens wear and I sported my pair proudly. My face has been framed a hundred different ways thanks to shifting tides in eyewear trends over the years. So getting glasses was not the hurdle here. It was ordering “progressive” lenses that pushed me over the edge.

The way I understand it is this: The flexible lens inside your eye that enables your focus functioning becomes increasingly rigid over time, making it harder for you to see clearly what’s right in front of you. I caught myself holding a menu further from my face and squinting at the computer screen–trademark middle-age moves, and was like, Holy shit.

“You must be close to 40?” my eye doctor asked.

Um, yes, as a matter of fact.

“Yeah,” she nodded, looking back down at her notes. “That happens. Completely normal.” This was very underwhelming.

And ironic. You spend your whole life trying to be normal, like everyone else, better than normal. And then, you’re told that you are, at last, exhibiting the standard markers for normal human aging, as your body breaks down according to plan. It’s very disappointing.

“Unless you wanted to carry around half a dozen pairs of glasses everywhere, the progressive lenses make sense,” she said. “Eighty percent of my patients over 40 use them.” Double oy.

The term “progressives” is a fancy update to “bifocals.” They’re actually quite a technological breakthrough–they’re multifocal, allowing you to shift prescriptions depending on where you look through the lens. I don’t know what mathematical genius came up with a way for a lens to do this, but I am prone to violent motion sickness and anticipate the adjustment being a very bumpy ride. Still, somehow they were able to fix this by measuring the pupillary distance for my new glasses, making the adjustment period a little easier for me. (They haven’t come in yet, so I will report back .) The pupillary distance measures the distance between the center of your pupils. Opticians use this measurement to ensure that the lenses are eyeglasses are correctly aligned.

The problem is the only people I know who wear them…are my parents. Sigh.

So I did it. Ponied up the cash for progressives, the way I imagine people make these kinds of concessions, because it makes sense, the way you might hesitantly say yes to horrible orthopedic shoes. A walker. Adult diapers.

But for now, it’s just glasses, which I’ve worn forever anyway. I’m trying not to make it a thing. (Too late).

This is, in effect, the body’s poetry: It teaches you a kind of wisdom through its limitations, in the way it changes your perception of the world around you. I haven’t been able to see further than four feet in front of me for as long as I can remember, but I’ve always been drawn to the big picture, to what’s out there, what could be and might be, at the sacrifice of focusing on the details. I find it excruciating to concentrate on one thing, one project, one draft without my eyes drifting away to something bigger, easier, further to reach for.

One of my roles is VP of Business & Talent Development at 2 Market Media, where I identify and cultivate talent–which I do by coaching experts to be powerful media personalities, and by developing content, looking down the arc of their story and brand. That feels so natural to me, to think and focus on their big picture, which is a safe distance from me. But when it comes to my own brand, my own projects, well, that’s a bit too close. Things get blurry and hard to see.

It plays out in other ways too–it’s also why I ask for a fork when there’s one right next to my plate, or why I went out and bought a magazine that I already had on a shelf. I keep missing what’s right in front of me, and it can be annoying, or worse.

This is a challenge for all of us. So much of the self-help lingo is about the big picture, knowing where you’re going, and I get that and how important it is. But especially as you get older, I realize that I can’t lose sight of what’s right there in front of me. And neither can you. Until we can see what’s right in front of us, we won’t get where we need to go.