…Turning 35, Elective Orphan style.
Is 35 a milestone? Perhaps, and bear with me here guys, it’s more of a female thing? I’m staring down the barrel of my last few fertile years, and I can imagine this raises a lot of questions for many women. I don’t have a clue how this age feels for men – you guys will have to let me know!
I remember a female friend of mine turning 35 last year. It was an intense hit of:
“My friends are all having babies”
“I’m still single”
“I don’t have a business/financial independence/legacy”
And booze. There was a lot of booze.
So today, as I turn 35, I am asking myself similar questions.
Thankfully, I am not still struggling with whether or not I want to procreate. For me it’s a big “no thank you” to small people. No offence, parents everywhere. In fact, let me go on record as saying thank you for ensuring the propagation of our species. I just rather it be you than me.
But with no little people to mould in my image, or whatever, what will be my legacy? That seems to be the biggest question I have today.
Sure, I wrote a book. But in today’s ‘internet celebrity’ culture, literally anyone can do that. It doesn’t feel like nearly enough to satisfy my questions about existence.
When I look back over all that I have survived in my lifetime; from abusive parents to stupid mistakes learning curves, trials, tribulations, tears and tequila: What has it all been for?
Our culture does have this issue of needing to justify our existence. It is not seen as enough to simply be; we need to do, and do well. We have bucket lists and deadlines. Milestones are not so much celebrations of staying alive but red days in our calendar by when we should have ticked off X, Y and Z.
Perhaps the best achievement I could make at 35 is to stop obsessing over achievements?
Yeah, that might take a bit more work…
A Tale of Two Triangles
If we turn our attention to that psychology classic by Maslow, my basic needs are more than met. This is definitely the moment to acknowledge my western priveledge; I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat and so much more. I am more than comfortable, honestly.
Yet we live in this culture of lack. This culture of ‘do more and be more’.
In my day job I repeatedly find myself staring at another triangle – Robert Dilt’s Logical Levels. And I find that all my ‘Maslow stuff’ is afforded by the lower levels of Dilt’s model – and that’s not so good. I think this is where my age-related anxiety comes from.
Time is the only truly finite resource in my world
I can make more money – check.
I can buy more food, clothes, apple technology – check.
I can’t buy more years on planet earth.
If that is outside of our control, then what CAN we control about our years on earth? Well, we can control how we spend them.
And CRASH, BOOM, BANG – here comes the existential anxiety about spending our years the right way.
What is the right way for each of us? Is there even such a thing? How can we ensure our happiness and the best use of whatever time we have?
Of course, nobody knows for sure. So we come up with these models and maps, such as those of Maslow and Dilts, to sketch out for ourselves some kind of framework, some certainty in an uncertain world.
So thanks, Robert Dilts. I’m not even sure if I mean that sarcastically or not. Whenever I look at his triangle I feel warm and fuzzy at first, because I totally agree with the importance of operating from our purpose and identity.
But then after a minute or two I feel a hollow, sickly feeling in my stomach. Because actually, I’m not sure that I’m operating from purpose myself. I find that as much as I want to, this thing we call reality gets in the way.
The ‘Maslow-style’ needs, and yes, perhaps even self-actualization, are facilitated by my daily life. I’m quantifying self-actualization as being able to afford books, education and a good life coach. And I live in a culture where I am allowed to think and express myself freely. I have the space to grow. However, sustaining my daily life requires me to work full-time and fulfil general ‘grown-up’ obligations. This in turn requires a great deal of my finite resource – time.
Meanwhile, somewhere in imagination-land, there is an alternative universe Sarah. She is kayaking across foreign waters, taking awesome photographs, writing an amazing blog, saving puppies, touching lives and changing the world.
Why can’t this-universe Sarah do it all? Because time is finite. I feel that it’s a choice between one triangle and the other, between being a ‘grown-up’ or travelling the world, between money and freedom.
The nature of time forces us to make choices, and/or give up sleeping. Ouch. And for me, this is what turning 35 is all about. I’m not complaining though, just sharing. My wish is that reading this post reminds you to make good choices.
An Elective Orphan x