Wednesday, December 07, 2005


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 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.
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.

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.

But no.

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.


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At 12/08/2005 9:15 PM, Blogger Don Hudson said...

I have read your comments and Marie's blog on growing older and feeling that life has taken an unfamiliar direction. I too have the same kind of introspection as I chase down my 40th birthday, But I never give it too much attention because I am still working towards a goal. It could be that I'm too busy living my life to worry about what's missing from my life.

At 12/14/2005 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

career-wise I have been on what seems like the same track for years, but really, it seems like every two years I have to make an adjustment to where I am going. At this point, I am going to finish my PhD, but then, I have to talk myself into continuing every day or two, bribing myself with chocolate to finish a report or a section of my dissertation. I am still not sure what I want to do when I am done, but I am sure that today I want to continue towards this degree, and I am fairly sure that tomorrow I will feel the same way.
I don't think that making small adjustments to stay on course is right for everyone, some times an overhaul is necessary. Look at our friend in Washington DC, she dropped her career as a buyer at Macys and started in the museum field, now she works at the smithsonian air and space museum, top of her field.
Either way can work, big leaps of little steps, but I believe that a key component is the chocolate

At 12/14/2005 11:50 AM, Blogger Sara Kocher said...

Rita, you're so right about the chocolate! Combining that with Don's caution against overthinking instead of doing, and I've got great advice here. I just need to take it. Which is where the chocolate comes in...

At 12/14/2005 5:25 PM, Blogger Steve Buccellato said...

I think there is something to be said for Don's "Goal Oriented" advice on this.

Of course, we all need to attain some level of self-awareness. Know who we are and who we want to be and all that. Still, I'm pretty sure that too many people spend WAY too much time in self-examination (and bitching about things), rather than pinpointing realistic goals and making them happen. It's certainly easier to spend time pondering the "ifs" and "whys." Here is a good example of one way to spend your time. (Joke!)

I'm pretty sure that our parents, and previous generations spent less time wondering how to redefine their lives. I don't think they had the luxury.

This shows how good we have it today, and so, to put a positive spin on all this, let us take a moment to consider the great opportunities we have in front of us! Happy Holidays!


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