Somehow, people got the idea that they were supposed to be at a certain place at particular stages of life. When we started forming words by so many months or walking by whatever, the “norms” were thrown at our parents with high expectations. We were all at the same place, more or less, the moment we were born. And then things changed. Our paths diverged. I went one way, following and leading many others of my ilk and some that were very different. Others went down other paths to different places – places that are mysterious and frightening. Why am I here? Where am I supposed to be at this very moment in my life?
Yeah, that’s where I’m going with this, so have a seat and pour yourself a drink.
I’m 47 years old now, here in the waning moments of summer of 2014. I’m at that point in my life – call it a midlife crisis, if you wish – where I’m looking straight down into the bottom of the long descent. I’m not old, but I can see where it goes. I can see myself failing to bounce back as swiftly as I used to. I don’t listen to new music much, holding onto the 1980’s firmly. I work with people who were born after I graduated from college. And I have a doctor.
Life here in the middle is kind of mundane and pathetic. The Baby Boomers keep telling me with a discernible degree of envy and disgust how young I am. The truly young look on me with pity. Nice. But I am not old, and I surely have many years ahead of me, even if those years are bound to be more miserable than every one preceding. When I see someone in their late 70’s, I see varying degrees of decrepitness – many barely able to get around and others looking fit and spry for their age, even perhaps in better shape than their 30-year-old contemporaries. In essence, they are in better condition than their kids.
As I look down that bottomless chasm of my future, I can’t help but thinking about where I’ve found myself here on my timeline at age 47. While it’s easy to go down the path of self-deprecation when comparing oneself to others at the same age, we do find ourselves going there often – at least I do.
But before I convene a self-pity party, I should change my perspective for the moment, probably a healthy thing to do once in a while. I look at myself often very subjectively, and I worry too much about what others might think of me. I’ve asked myself, “where am I supposed to be right now in my life?” The answer is simple, I should be exactly where I am. The choices I made and the path I selected ultimately make up the person I am, along with some genetic predisposition and cultural positioning. I can’t be a Sherpa. A Sherpa can’t be Usain Bolt. We’re told all our lives that we can be anything we want, as long as we believe in ourselves. While this sentiment is encouraging, it is absolutely false. Yet, this is not to say that a person can’t change his or her own destiny. But I mean, we are who we are born to be. Sure, I could aspire to be the Governor of Texas or an astronaut, but those destinies are more up to chance than the goals we might more realistically set for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I dream of being published and recognized as a writer. That’s not unrealistic. It is lofty. But I already possess the talent for writing, and most of my ability came after much practice.
My destiny is not fixed. But if I want to become something, I have to reach for it. No one is going to knock on my door and tell me I’ve been selected to write the next in the series of James Bond screenplays. If someone does, I call bullshit.
I was watching X Factor and [insert nation]’s Got Talent auditions on YouTube last night, and I noticed that many of the contestants were very young. There are a few older participants, and the judges piss me off when they go slack-jawed when the person on stage tells them he is 48 years old. Like being over 40 renders a person incapable of impressing a jury panel. Susan Boyle, for one, was publicly derided and mocked right there by the Britain’s Got Talent celebrity judges moments before sealing her fate. If I were her – well, I’m not, and that’s the point (yes, I’m getting to that.)
Where Susan Boyle was exactly at that moment of her life was precisely where she ought to have been. She was ready, and she succeeded. A few of the contestants that night were more than 20 years younger than she. They were also where they needed to be at that moment in their lives. Whether a person graduates from high school at 16 or 31, that should not be an assessment on their worthiness to achieve that goal. When most of us, statistically, graduate at age 18, that by no means translates to either the present or the future that we are in the median, or maybe it does. But when I was 18, I was a colossal imbecile, and sometimes that fragment of my being emerges to this day. At 47, I am still finding my way, still discovering who I am and what my purpose is. I know some of it, but not all. I believe there is some truth to all faiths and beliefs of the path to enlightenment, made manifest by the steps we take each day, by the choices we make.
If you are 26 years old, and you are reading this feeling that you have not arrived, and you descend into self-pity because your younger brother completed his masters thesis already, and you are underemployed and marginalized, remember that people reach their milestones at different stages of their lives. They begin college after forty, and they change careers at fifty. Back when people did not expect to grow old, they defined “old” in terms of going gray and having grandchildren. They sought to achieve anything by the time they were thirty, and many people never knew what possibilities lay before them. How sad that many people still see life this way!
Although I still struggle to accept that my life is pretty damn good, I think I’m not a hopeless case. I accept that there are younger people making a hell of a lot more money than I am. I accept that my 70-year-old dad can outrun me. I accept that writers like Bret Easton Ellis and J. K. Rowling got lucky on their first try. Jealous, yes. But I’ll use that to fuel my drive to keep writing. Even with the successes of those with the Midas touch, it’s important to believe that we will have our day. Besides, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until a few years ago, and I only started singing when I was thirty. My photography, on the other hand, has not been remarkable in the 36 years I’ve been taking pictures. Perhaps that will take off unexpectedly in the next decade, and the young photogs on the next shoot with me can call me “old timer”, but who knows where they will be in twenty or thirty years. I hope they have already found their way, but I also hope they haven’t stopped searching.