Middle-Aged, Married & Mortgaged |
Not long ago, I realised I was going to die. I didn’t know when, exactly, but I was sure it would be soon.
Before we get to that, though, I need to tell you about my childhood. Don’t yawn; it’s interesting, I promise.
At about the age of eight, I developed an entrepreneurial streak. While other kids ran around breaking letterboxes and smoking cigarette butts they found outside the milk bar (drug store to you Yanks), I made stuff in my dad’s shed. It was like my little laboratory, only with wood and nails. In here, I believed I could make enough things to build my empire. Never mind that I was still wetting the bed.
Sadly, the market for letter openers fashioned from six-inch nails was more limited than I expected and as I discovered in the ensuing years, so it was for most of my ideas.
But years later, and after many failures, my lust for independence came to a head and culminated in a decision that changed things forever.
On a crisp June day in 1984, seated in geography class, I was struck by a thought. What if all of this was a waste of time? What if my straight-A performance in this stifling institution called high school delivered little more than a mediocre life? Was that all I had to look forward to? Was this what my parents wanted for me?
What if I dared to be different? Who would I disappoint? These and many other thoughts filled my fertile little brain.
Have you ever bungee jumped? Do you remember how it felt when you stood on the ledge and looked down? That was me in that classroom.
Right at that moment, I stole a few sharp breaths, gathered up my books and walked to the door. It felt like I was falling; a bundle of nervous adrenaline.
“Where do you think you’re going?” my teacher bellowed.
Determined that I wouldn’t be stopped, I hurried to the empty corridor, snapped open my locker and ripped out my things.
I raced towards the gate, only stopping briefly to take in those drab grey buildings for the very the last time. I swore that I’d never return – not just to this school, but to anywhere or anything that didn’t match the vision I had for my life.
I was barely sixteen.
I’d love to tell you this brave act marked the beginning of an adventure-filled life, but it seemed I wasn’t that special after all. Not yet.
My first job out of school was with a large bank. I worked hard and excelled in my job; I was even earmarked to become the youngest bank manager in the country. But it was soul crushing.
My next job, though, was incredible.
For seven years, I drove, photographed and wrote about cars and motorcycles for two of the country’s top magazines. I drove my first Lamborghini when I was 18; I tore around racetracks with motorsport legends and flew to exotic locations first-class to wine and dine with manufacturers and other members of the press. What a blast!
At that point, I didn’t think it could get any better.
Then one day a stranger snapped me back to reality.
Idling at a set of lights in a gleaming red Lotus Esprit, a passer by said, “I love your car, mate!”
“It’s not mine. It’s a press car,” I replied.
It was 1984 all over again. The only difference was I looked cooler this time.
Plenty of guys my age would have killed for that job – never mind that the pay was pitiful. My own car was a shitty little panel van with a leaky head gasket, and my house was actually a rented room in a shared house with four other struggling 20-somethings.
There and then I decided to strike out on my own. I was frightened but excited once again. Freelance work came and went, but the lack of a reliable income made it tough going.
Years of tumult followed – my life a blur of unpaid bills, failed dreams and ultimately, two divorces. My few successes met with failure in equal measure, till eventually, after decades of struggle, the planets aligned.
I met and married an incredible woman. A hard-working, intelligent, spendthrift, who endured my pathetic existence long enough to see me emerge from my malaise.
Money was made, spending was cut and my life wrought into balance.
I’d finally gotten my shit together.
But life had other plans for me. It decided that because I was now forty-two, I should also have a midlife crisis.
I used to be one of those people who laughed and pointed at fat middle-aged men prancing around on a Harleys or posing in Porsches. Now I wanted them too (and a piano, and a big four-wheel drive and a garage full of camping gear)!
Plus, I didn’t want to work anymore.
At this point, my dad had been retired for over ten years and was living the dream. My dream!! It was killing me.
In retrospect, everything else in my life was wonderful – a perfect wife, beautiful children, a lovely house and a steady income. But something was missing. Neither the bike, the four-wheel drive, the piano nor the camping gear changed this (yes, I bought all of them).
I was stuck.
Here was someone who understood the fire I’d had inside of me since I was a kid, someone whose quest for freedom and purpose echoed mine.
I’d found my spark.
Others appeared too, including Sir Ken Robinson, Seth Godin, Tim Ferris, Corbett Barr and Chris Guillebeau. More have followed since then, but it was that initial jolt (and 365 emails) from Jonathan that got me out of the hole.
Within a month, my life changed, and I believe that everything from then on has augmented and amplified that change.
A Fresh Start
Today, I spend a lot less time doing shit I don’t enjoy (through systemising, outsourcing and just saying ‘no’), and more time doing what I love (writing, working with people I respect, and enjoying my life).
My shit is finally sorted.
But how did I do it? Encumbered with the holy trinity of middle age, marriage and mortgage, how did I find purpose, freedom and fulfilment again?
The answer is simple, though far from easy. I thought long and hard about three things:
- What were my natural talents?
- What was I genuinely passionate about? This can be difficult at first so replace this with ‘what do I really enjoy doing?’
- What problems could I solve in the service of others?
I’ve been and done many things, but it was the intersection between writing, my thirst for freedom and the midlife struggle that struck a chord.
I decided to combine them, and now less than 18 months later, I have a blog I’m proud of, some wonderful new relationships, and a book that’ll be published later this year.
I have a purpose; I have fulfilment plus a good dose of freedom. I’m happy.
The thing is, I found my niche. It mightn’t be my life’s one true calling, but for now, it feels a lot like those days when I was making stuff in my dad’s shed. It’s enormously satisfying. But unlike the letter openers, I know I can create a whole new life through this endeavour.
During this process, my perspective also evolved. I realise now that simply being here is a miracle – a one-in-400-trillion stroke of luck. It’s the ultimate lottery win.
The Meaning of Life
I no longer question the meaning of life because I know the answer.
I believe it's demonstrating gratitude for this incredible fluke and living as fully as possible. It means recognising the limitations imposed by age and responsibility, but feeling free to pursue my dreams and being authentic in that pursuit.
It means accepting that I can’t have everything I want (at least not at the same time), but that I can create my ideal life one step at a time by amplifying my strengths and abandoning my weaknesses.
Knowing that I’m doing the work – even when I don’t feel like it – makes me successful right where I am, at this moment. It’s not tied to outcomes (well-defined as they might be) but rather, the action I take every day.
When treated this way, life becomes an exciting, fulfilling adventure and not a constant struggle with anxiety.
After 49 years, I know it’s the only way to live.
One day I will die, and while I now believe that’s a long way off, I know that I’ll die having truly lived. What more could you ask for than that?
Blog Posts That Might Help
You CAN have everything. Just not at the same time
Finding Time to Reinvent Yourself
How it Feels to Live on Your Own Terms
Quitting Your Job is the Wrong Move
Talent or passion – which comes first?
The Tools I Use and Recommend
Books for Entrepreneurs in the New Economy
Thanks for stopping by and I hope we get to hang out more in the future. And in the meantime, please feel free to share your own experiences. You can email me directly at email@example.com. I respond to all emails. If this was beneficial to you, please consider subscribing and sharing with someone you think would also benefit.
Disclaimer & Disclosure: I'm not a psychologist, and I'm not a financial advisor's elbow. This material doesn't constitute financial advice but rather a collection of personal opinions, based on my own experiences. Some of the links on my site are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. I provide links to services or products I have used and liked or researched and recommend. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you believe they will be beneficial to you
Also published on Medium.