For most people the significant years or “milestones” in their lives seem to coincide with achieving a nice round age; with the exception being when you’re young, excited about being older, and still counting your age with your fingers. As my favorite comedian George Carlin puts it, “you never hear anyone say they’re thirty-six-and-a-half years old.”
When you think about it, even the description of how you reach a certain age has a certain connotation about it.
Become 21 years old – YESSS you’ve reached the greatest day of your life.You’re not only 1 year removed from being a teen, but now you can irresponsibly binge drink your weekends away. It almost has a ceremonial ring to it…you become 21.
Turn 30 years old – Much like expired milk left in your fridge for too long turns, you’re older and moving well on to being an “adult”. Careful, they might throw you out!
Push 40 years old – while you’ve only been an adult for a decade, you’re now “over the hill” and supposedly everything is going to get worse, hence the phrase “It’s all downhill from here”.
Reach 50 years old – you’re middle-aged, or mature. Might as well use the term “Ripe” while we’re at it.
Make it to 60 years old – Yay you made it! As if there were questions about the likelihood of even making 60 trips around the sun. Good news though, you’re almost to retire and can start receiving benefits like discounted golf and free sides at your local IHOP.
Hit 70 though 90 years old – After that it’s a day-by-day thing…you HIT Thursday. And, if your lucky enough to make it to 100 you become a little kid again “I’m 100 and a half years old”
I’ve never had a problem turning a certain age before. At 30 years old, I still felt like I was 20, so I never really had a problem. I never thought, “Oh my god, I’m getting old!”
But now at the grand age of 35, I think:
“Oh my god, I’m getting old!”
But I feel like:
“Yeah, I’m still young at heart- I don’t feel old!”
Actually, I feel the youngest I’ve ever felt. Hyperbole aside, I do feel younger and I think it’s a result of finding myself. While becoming reacquainted with myself, I’m finding new life. Realizing little bits about myself here and there is really exhilarating. Introspective observation has led me to a virtual gold mine with regards to what works well for me in my life.
But, opposed to finding myself and feeling young are my thoughts that I am not necessarily where I should be in my life. Not in the sense that I should have achieved certain milestones by the predetermined by societal standards, but in the sense that at 35 years old – I’m not really owning my life.
I don’t know when most people start feeling like they own their life, but my thoughts say, “You’re 35 years old, you should be owning your life by now.”
Actually they say, “You’ve accomplished a lot, but you’re still living your life like a man-child. You’ve yet to make that next big jump and take ahold of the steering wheel and drive your life.”
As if somehow my laissez-faire lifestyle characterized by travel, mornings in the coffee shop, and flexible work hours are just indicative of me dragging my feet on the way to becoming a “real adult”. Real adults own a house, get married, have 2.5 kids, attend PTA meetings, and drive a Subaru Outback, right? “What?” “Well that’s what societal constructs say son…get with the picture.”
Mostly, I’ve decided that this means that although I’ve accomplished, by many metrics, so much by the age of 35 years old – I haven’t accomplished what I’ve wanted to accomplish. And, honestly the problem is that I don’t fully know what I want to accomplish with my life.
What I do know is that I need to actively move my efforts in life towards accruing identity capital, and attaining goals that are more in line with my personal statement. Which is…
“To be happy as I live a life of service, while surrounded by friends.”
Pretty vague, pretty open, and pretty awesome statement if you ask me. Spend life helping people, be happy doing that, make friends…it’s not rocket science and it’s not really that demanding, it’s the way life should be. As long as I make choices that are in line with this statement I can’t go wrong, right?
I quite like Meg Jay’s notion of accruing identity capital, but if I must confess, my current life transformative strategy is a bit at odds with it. If “your 20s are a developmental sweetspot” as Meg Jay says, then I spent most of that time halting my development while pipetting mindlessly through grad school. Sure, there were things I learned about myself while in grad school (I can work like a dog and live off a meager stipend), and I certainly became an expert on certain scientific topics along the way while developing an amazing set of critical thinking skills.
But somehow, I feel like by spending too much time on accruing such a specific set of knowledge I denied myself the expansive opportunities unique to our 20s. Such intense focus on characterizing external phenomena left me devoid of introspective inquiry. I missed the boat, and I’m going to have to do this on my own as most of my peers are ending their expansive lives, settling down, having kids etc. If 80% of life’s defining moments take place by 35 years of age…well, I best begin to figure it out.
Lately I’ve been both actively and passively stripping myself of false identifications that my ego has been so tightly holding on to for so long. Yes you’re a smart fella, get over it-so is everyone else. Yes you’re well travelled and well read, get over it-so is everyone else. Yes you’re a charming and handsome devil, –wait what? Come again?
If my ego was a room once stuffed full of people (ideas about who I was) a few years ago, it’s currently a small gathering or an intimate affair. I’ve worked so hard to remove all the false notions with regards to who I am, that I’m reluctant to invite more people to the party.
I’m comfortable with the people at the intimate affair but there’s a nagging notion that the party could be a grand affair if only the right people are invited. Accruing more identity capital has to be done in a conscious manner. After trimming the fat with regards to personal identification, one’s ego is desperate to grab onto anything in attempts to avoid death. Maybe the very act of walking this tight rope – building personal identity without inflating your ego – is the very definition of owning your life.
Coordination and balance have never been my forte, here’s to hoping I can walk the line.