In a few short months I’ll be turning 50.
I haven’t got used to the idea of being 40 yet, so 50 seems like something that isn’t really happening to me – it’s happening to some other version of myself in a parallel universe.
When I read an article in a newspaper for example, and it says something like, ‘Jane Brown, 43, did blah blah blah’, my first thought will often be,
‘She’s too old to be doing that!’
Or, ‘Yeah, that’s about right at that age’.
Then I pull myself up short and think, ‘But she’s way younger than me!’
I think in some part of my brain I harbour a very outdated stereotype of what women (and men, I’m not sexist in this) should be like once they pass the age of 40 – you know, a frumpy frock, a bad taste in music and a bucket load of common sense.
Because I’m not in the slightest bit like this stereotype (especially the common sense bit) this part of my brain refuses to accept that I could be this age or even *gasp* older.
I don’t know where I’ve got this from because I don’t actually know any 40 year olds who fit this stereotype and the current reign of 40 year olds seem even less like it now than my peers and I did when we turned 40 ten years ago.
As I try to get my head around this I’m doing the one thing I know works when it comes to straightening out my thoughts. I’m writing them down.
I find writing therapeutic and a good way of making sense of my world (the ‘my’ is intentional). I have this image of thousands of thoughts jumbled in my head, clambering over each other and one by one sliding down through my arms and out of my fingertips onto a page or screen where they stop racing around and form an orderly line.
So, instead of freaking out about being freaking fifty I’m going to write a series of blog posts about where I am in my life and how I feel about it. I’m intending to write three posts; one each month until my birthday with each one covering a different theme. I may or may not write another one after the event depending on how I’m feeling.
And if this doesn’t work … well, hello midlife crisis!
For this first post I thought I’d reflect on my life’s goals and where I’m up to. As I plan on living to be 100 (and staying healthy and fit in mind and body of course) then turning 50 means I’m halfway through. Now that’s a sobering thought.
Reflecting on my life goals in my blog seems quite fitting too as it was a list of goals that inspired me to start the blog in the first place. After playing around with various blogs and never feeling they were right I started one called 60 Things To Do Before I’m 60 over on Blogger.
It was a list of big goals – ones that would take a long time to achieve because they were either expensive or time consuming – and so I gave myself until I was 60 which at the time was about 16 years.
Over time, as I realised I enjoyed blogging and liked learning the art of blogging as much as I enjoyed the actual writing, it morphed into more of a general lifestyle blog with an awful lot of travel. I switched to WordPress because it seemed more professional and gave me more to learn and then last year I decided to go the full hog and get my own hosting. It made sense to change the name at this time as it was now about a lot more than just a bucket list.
My life’s goals are more than just the list of activities and places to visit I had on that blog though.
I want to be in a place where I’m financially secure and can do the things I want to do without constantly having to choose between time and money – do I work a lot, earn more, but not have time or do I work less and free up time to do the things I want to do, but not be able to do them because I haven’t earnt enough money?
I really thought I’d have this balance right by now.
But no, I’m still swinging to either one side or the other. Though I have to say I’m a lot more balanced than I’ve ever been before, so I suppose I’m slowly getting there.
Giving up full-time teaching a couple of years ago helped. I felt like all I did was work for most of the year and then binge on holidays when I could (often taking work with me) and end up completely exhausted. I like to have thinking time, time to process what I’ve done or what I want to do and I wasn’t getting any time to do that at all. I felt like I was manically leaping from one thing to the next and not getting much benefit from anything.
Life is much calmer now. I have time to think. I still get really busy, but not in an overwhelming way. I enjoy teaching and don’t want to give it up completely, but there’s no way I ever want it to take over my life again. Ideally I’d like to be in the position where I had income from various streams so I could pick and choose the teaching I do and just work a few days a week or a few weeks a term.
When I travelled long-term in my twenties, I pictured myself having a base when I was older. A retreat I could call my own where I would be surrounded by books (and a shelf of National Geographics – that was important – all the homes I visited and stayed in that I really liked had a shelf of National Geographics), cooking utensils and the souvenirs I’d acquired on my travels.
I have this now. A small house filled with books, cooking utensils, souvenirs, and yes, National Geographics.
It’s not perfect and the best thing about the location is that it’s near the airport and the motorway system so it’s easy to leave, but it’s mine and it completely suits my purpose.
I wanted to have a car, and ideally a campervan, so I could easily travel around the UK and now I have this too. I passed my driving test when I lived in Sydney, but then didn’t drive again until I moved back to Manchester nine years later. I felt like a complete beginner again, but at least didn’t have to worry about having formal lessons or having to pass a test.
My mum gave me her old banger which I drove to the point of having no choice but give it up (I could no longer buy fuel for it as it was from the pre-unleaded era and something went wrong with the gears so unless I could start in 3rd gear it would only go backwards – not ideal for hill starts, particularly at traffic lights!) I exchanged it for a better car, albeit still a small one and built up my confidence travelling to every corner of the UK (and I’m not just talking mainland here) and taking my tent everywhere I went.
Finally a few years ago I bought a small van and paid a couple of friends to convert it into a tiny campervan. It’s not the old, perfectly revamped, VW combi that I’d really like, but it suits my purpose completely. It’s relatively cheap to run on a day-to-day basis, easy to park, small enough to qualify for the cheapest fares on ferries AND, best of all, it looks nothing like a campervan so I can park up and no-one suspects that someone is sleeping in it.
I wanted to have an education, qualifications and a career. Growing up in a place where education wasn’t particularly valued and no-one went to university and a good job was a job in one of the local shops made this really important to me. Even then I chafed at the lack of aspiration the people around me had, and thought I should have, and knew that I wanted something different for myself.
Once I’d completed my gap decade, I settled down to study and made it my aim to have more letters after my name than I actually had in it. I didn’t want to study for the sake of studying or go to any university for the sake of going to university, I wanted to find a subject I was really interested in and then study it at the best university I could find for that particular subject. I achieved all of this. I believed I could do it and so I did it.
When I look back now I can hardly believe it. My confidence was at all time high. After travelling for ten years and mixing with people who were doing all kinds of wonderful things and having so many amazing experiences myself, I just assumed everything was possible and could be made to happen.
As the years go by and I get more and more enmeshed in my English suburban life I often have to remind myself of this; it’s not an automatic assumption anymore and that saddens me. But at least when I catch myself falling into the ‘people like me don’t do this’ way of thinking my past experiences give me a huge advantage over other people because I don’t just think it might be possible; I know it’s possible and I just need to believe in myself.
Growing up I was desperate to travel. People around me went on holidays – usually in the UK, but maybe a week or two in Spain if you were particularly posh – but no-one ‘travelled’. I had no idea it was possible to travel the world, picking up work as you went and live in a variety of countries. Once I found out about it there was no stopping me.
If I could achieve all of these things just because it never occurred to me I couldn’t achieve them, then surely I should be able to achieve even more as I move forwards. I have 50 years experience to call on for goodness sake!
So, work-life balance I’m coming at you!
Financial security, ditto.
I will tick more items of my 60 things to do before I’m 60 list.
And I’ll make my next 50 years at least as good as, if not better, than the first 50.
What I won’t do is acquire a frumpy dress and a bad taste in music.
I’m going to go easy on the common sense too.
Have you had a birthday that’s caused you to reflect on your life? How do you feel about getting older? Share your thoughts in the comments below.