We are on a journey.
From our very first words, we are compared to those around us, our every achievement judged, and we are quickly placed within a structure that defines both success and normality.
As we go through childhood, we are measured, prodded, and tested. Before we even reach double figures, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, and as we develop we are encouraged to become more competitive and goal orientated.
At 18, my blueprint was: university, career, mortgage, marriage, kids, promotion, retirement. Anything that strayed from this path seemed to be at worst, a failure, at best – a risk. If you lag behind then an overwhelming sense of urgency can take over, which pushes you to work harder.
But what if you do work harder and climb to the top, and then find that you don’t care much for the view? What if you do achieve your goals, and you’re still not happy?
In my youth I just wanted to fit in, but looking back it seems daft that I spent much of my time doing things that were expected of someone my age, but not things that I actually wanted to do.
I am now 33. As a reaction to my peers reaching their milestones, I started to reassess my life. But I mainly concentrated on my weaknesses in comparison to their strengths. I never once stopped to think of my achievements, nor did I think about their failures, or if they are even happy. Very self critical, and based more on an emotive response than any logic.
The midlife crisis is arguably a cultural construct; there is little evidence of it in Japanese and Indian cultures, where the elderly are revered and respected. Western society is geared toward the young, the elderly are viewed as spent or useless. It’s no wonder then that we panic that our youth is slipping away, and that we must cram in as much as possible.
Is this approach so unhealthy? Wanting to better ourselves is commendable. However, if keeping up becomes our motivation then we can lose sight of what we want. We concentrate on the things we are no longer able to do, rather than looking to the future.
There is a nagging doubt that my life could have been different, and that I’m running out of time. I have a list of things I want to do before I die, but this is not my list; I have no desire to swim with dolphins. We fall out of age brackets, and opportunities fade with the passing of each year. The idea of settling down feels increasingly stifling, and as I get older, the images that seem to point to success and fulfilment feature younger and fitter men than myself.
I look at people older than myself, and I think about my own mortality. I look at the young and wonder if I had that much fun when I was their age (I probably did). I probably need a reality check, I probably need to stop moaning. But most importantly of all, we should probably all just start enjoying ourselves a little more. Because you know, when we’re really old, all of this will just seem so flippin’ trivial.