When I was young(er) forty seemed like the Andromeda galaxy: distant, vague, beyond any realms of comprehension, something far, far away. Yet if what’s said is true, it’s meant to be the pinnacle of our lives, an opportunity to survey the world from up high -infusing wisdom and accrued knowledge before beginning the long journey down to the bone orchard.
I used to think people ticking over this milestone gleaned some profound understanding of how the world really worked, but as I close in on my own date I’ve come to believe it’s less about knowledge and more about experiential learning that derives how I see and act in the world.
So from the (figurative) high ground of life, here’s a summary of how things look through my own eyes at 40.
Let’s start with success. Once upon a time (for me) success was a Subaru with AWD, working towards home ownership and a job with a 6 figure salary. To some, that’s still what success is (that’s their reality, which is fine), but at one point in my early 30s I realised that wasn’t my success story. In all honesty, I still don’t know exactly how it should look or feel other than to acknowledge that we all have different metrics for calculating our own success -Striking the balance between seeking rich, positive, life experiences whilst having few home-comforts is where I’m at now.
Direction and getting lost: In 2005, my wife and I cycled from Bulgaria into Greece -or at least we thought we had. What we quickly realised was that the border to Greece was now the frontier of Turkey. The point here -for all intents and purposes- is that we got lost, and, whilst it was momentarily stressful, we ended up having an amazing and enriching 14 days in an unintended country; somewhere we never expected to visit, and with it came a valuable life lesson: it’s okay to get lost. Because things generally turn out fine if not better than expected.
Comfort: I love being a lazy bastard on a beanbag or lounging around in bed with a book until well after the dawn chorus finishes, but I’ve never (as far as I’m aware) had an epiphany whilst chillaxing with a Mills and Boon. Personal growth has always come when I’ve challenged myself, pushed limits, become a little bit more (or a lot more) afraid or uncomfortable or wet or cold or whatever… And it’s in the times after this that I’ve also really, and I mean really, appreciated those simple home comforts.
Advertisements: are a savvy way of getting us to consume things that we’ve lived without but which we now think we totally need. Respect adverts. They plug into our sub-conscious in ways most of us (myself included) don’t understand. What I have seen time and again is intelligent, smart people won over by advertising. Give ads the respect they deserve, no matter how they pass through your life.
Balance: encompasses so many things, but to name a few; financial security v free time, solitude v camaraderie, digital world v real-world. We all walk the tightrope of life, yet too much of one thing comes at a cost to our health, marriage, bank balance, eyesight! Striving for the often elusive life balance is something I’ve tried to make a priority in recent years.
Problems: Life is full of them. You work through one and then, bang, another two or three hit home. Some problems we create, some just happen. Taking responsibility for my own problems is something that I’ve come to accept as part of life’s journey and it staves off the dangerous practice of blaming others, which leads to becoming a cynic.
Stand for Something: I’ve sat on the fence plenty of times. Usually when I don’t have a high degree of passion about matters. But occasionally things have really pissed me off; like the time an Orthopaedic Surgeon repeatedly (over years) failed to offer after hours phone support to junior doctors in the hospital I worked at. And the time I saw a shop-lifter stealing from a family owned bike business. In my opinion it’s better to stand for something, even if it’s wrong (and you learn from it) rather than to commit yourself to a life of apathy.
Death: I envy plastic bags -they live for so long. And we mere mortals only get 80 years -if we’re lucky. What if we own nothing in this world except our thoughts and actions. What if even our bodies are on loan. After all, death is going to happen which seems a bit shit, but if it didn’t happen the world would be even more populous and we probably wouldn’t be able to blame the Chinese.
Perhaps donating some thought to the fact that one day it’ll all be be gone is what really helps gain perspective when looking out over one’s high point on life’s journey.