Marie Javins is trying to determine whether to go to Kuwait for a short-term job or settle down and stop cavorting all over the world while entertaining her friends and assorted strangers with her travel journals. Among other things, she wrote this:
But it feels like I missed something. Like I went to sleep one day at age 34 and when I opened my eyes, everyone else had moved forward by five years while to me it was January 5, 2001, the day after I got on the Amtrak to head west. Others had saved while I had spent. Advanced while I’d ignored. I’d let a lot of friendships slide and constantly have to start over. It’s like everyone else has aged gracefully but I’m still casting about trying to work out what to do next.I have no useful advice about world travel or whether or not to go to Kuwait, but finding-yourself personal-growth type angst? I think everyone's been there, unless they're one of the rare few who've known exactly what they wanted to do in life from very early on. Or maybe one of the not-so-rare ones who's too stupid to think about it.
I expressed this to Sean, a friend in Sydney. He told me I was flat-out wrong. That I’d been living while others were chained to the desk. Maybe he’s right, but I still feel like I missed some vital personal-growth part of life, or at least realized too late that I’d been ignoring it.
Growing up, I always thought that this kind of worry and angst was a feature of your teens and early 20's and that once you settled into your "real" life (whether marriage-kids-white-picket-fence or world travel), it would go away.
I feel as though my old self simply ceased to exist in 2002 when the Bunster was born. One minute I was me and the next I was someone else entirely. The part that feels like me has been slowly coming back, plus I've been getting used to the new me, so it's not bad. It's just kind of surreal. And I'm still figuring out what kind of person I'd like to be.
It's not that I'm discontented with my life...I love nearly all of it and the parts I don't love are pretty typical (want more sleep, cuter shoes, more time with my husband, and so forth). It's just that I can't keep being a work-at-home mom of a preschooler forever and so I feel the need to have some kind of direction to guide my future choices. And I don't really know what that direction should be. Like Marie, I'm still casting about trying to work out what to do next.
And then it strikes me that this is normal. Average. Typical. Basically, all the things it doesn't feel like when you're in the middle of it.
Of course, there's the classic mid-life-crisis cliche of the middle aged man with the convertible sports car and the trophy girlfriend half his age. It's certainly one answer to the question of what to do next, although kind of a sad one. Robert Cilley, writing about keeping mementos of the past, says, "It is the smudgy ink stamp on the wrist that says he can get back into the nightclub of youth." And I think he'd agree that the red Miata and the 23-year-old fall into that category.
But this questioning and searching isn't about recapturing youth. It's just about which path to take next.
How many people really know what to do next?
Would Marie's "aging gracefully" friends recognize themselves in that description? Or are they also trying to figure out what comes next, wondering whether to reinvent themselves or continue on their current paths?
The urge to recreate yourself, the feeling that perhaps whatever it is that you're doing isn't taking you in the right direction and you should be exploring another, is something that comes and goes for most people.
I was going to write something pithy about how nice it would be to be able to buy a compass to provide this direction. But then I remembered the bookstore's worth of shelves of self-help books, the thousands of "career counselors" and all the various videos, songs, poems, etc. intended to instill or inspire exactly this kind of direction. Perhaps I should try composing something about how nice it would be to buy an accurate life-compass.