"If you have not self actualised by 40, isn't it time to give up?"
I had been dealing pretty well with being in my late 30s. I had no 40 issues, really none at all. Until that statement, made by a well-meaning late-20-something.
Perhaps it is time. Perhaps that last rung on the hierarchy of needs is an illusion. Many seem too obsessed with it, with something they haven't yet found. If 'too' is defined by missing the good things right in front of you.
But when I toyed with the notion, not writing that novel or thesis, losing the idea I've been gnawing away on that I might look again at career with the kids in school, consider the possibilities like an undergraduate, when grasped it and peered in, I saw a hard, lightless landscape, I saw slowly lifting one foot, then the other, forwards, towards the same. It was just bleak, a shade of ashen grey about 3 shades short of black.
It was a statement made with the same sense of certaintly I felt at that age, by now I would be everything I am and more, whatever more is, and perhaps most importantly of all I would have 'found it' and would be entirely sated by what it is that I put my energy into. Not only that, but money would be bouncing off my shoulder blades and as I straddled a perfect balance of material sufficiency and ethical purity. Saving the world, then recuperating on a ski field in Japan or a reef off the coast of Manado. As I write it the words are silly, the utopianism self-contradictory and absurd, yet it was a firm belief.
The young person, the sense of certainty, both are easy to put into perspective. But the words pierce my defences against a far broader sweep of pressures that are less passing, less easily ignored. From family, from Beloved, my kids and my own guilt, outwards.
Should I be mourning the 30s as the last time in my life I might have been entitled to do something radically different? Are the unfinished 8,500 word novel, the Masters that never turned into that Phd scholarship, the two writing jobs for which I got to second interview stage, the dream policy role that came at the wrong time, the artefacts of the final period of settlement on the rest of my life?
I have so much I am happy about. I know I should be grateful. I just don't know what I can tell my children, in complete honesty, it is all for. I know some of you have the answers, have passed this date by a while and will find the very notion here perplexing or even offensive. I hope so anyway, as I need to hear something that isn't from the maw of conservative late-30s career-life, a maw that presently has me in its teeth...
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