Monday, November 14, 2011

Approaching 40 - time to give up?

"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...

6 comments:

zoot said...

Time to give up? Hell no!
Everybody's trajectory will be different, but speaking as someone who turned 40 more than a quarter century ago I can assure you it is not the end. For me it was more of a beginning, and it did involve accepting (happily and proudly) who I am.
You have a remarkable talent for writing. I hope to see more fine examples in the next 30 or so years.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

What zoot said, and plus also, this: I have been reading your blog(s) since just before you got married and you appear to have been, over those six years, an absolutely exemplary husband and father. Do you have any idea how rare and valuable that is? It may not be as showy as climbing Everest or whatever, but it is worth much, much more.

Mindy said...

I'm holding onto the thought that life begins at 40. Even though unlike my parents I won't have teenagers at that time, at least the kids will be relatively self sufficient and dammit I am going to do that second degree/Masters/whatever because I want to. Age is just a number now that I can vote, drink, get married etc.

norlight said...

What Kerryn said.

I'm also hoping 40 isn't the end because although i'm still in my early 30s, I can see the next seven years or so slipping by pretty fast if we manage to have another baby or two, and a small town in Norway isn't the ideal place for me to even find a job that uses my interests and qualifications!

My dad turned 60 last year and just a week ago finished a masters in social work - after turning his career upside down eight years ago, abandoning his high-flying accountancy/auditing/management positions for low paying jobs in the care sector. I really admire him for it.

Armagny said...

You are all, as we would say back in Darwin, grouse.

It is as I feel as well. Zoot thank you I will come back to that on a rainy day. Kerryn, ditto.

Mindy and Norlight you are holding a similar hope to me I think. I hand my spare time over to my famm, and it is nice, and I figure this is the best time for this to be happening. As they approach their teens they will probably want their own space, and even if not, be able to do more on their own- sitting together reading or doing our respective 'things' for example.

And in the profession I am in, one thing I can say for law, unlike flashier, 'younger' callings, is that it respects its elders. We had a barrister appear in something recently who was easily well over 70, yet he was bright, vital, sharp as a tack and held the respect of everyone around him. Law has many faults but in this its institutional conservatism has some positives.

phil said...

Having just passed...er...umm...a couple of extra decades on you, all I can say is that you have plenty of time and there is no earthly reason to think you should have reached the peak of the pyramid by now. Some never make it, some never even recognise it exists.

Plus what the others said.