A few days ago I went to see my former boss at the last record company I worked for, a catch-up chat of sorts, and I found out he had embarked on a joint venture that involved running his own label, but also the responsibly of delivering hits if food were to appear on his table. A long time friend, a successful photographer and soap opera director, started a radio project for teenagers, as a lark, and now wants to devote his time entirely to it, thinking an income will follow. A suddenly single girlfriend went the route of volunteering and will be leaving the country before the end of the year. Another girlfriend is starting a candy business in Antigua. And then there is the diplomat wife who, after a life spent moving around the world, has started a catering business. All these are friends my age or slightly older.
Wherever I turn, some forty or fifty something is revolutionizing her life to chase a dream. Including sofagirl and I, who both willingly left fairly lucrative careers to start anew: looking for something more fulfilling, more in line with who we had become.
It might be that our generation grew up under the assumption we could do whatever we set our minds to. Or almost. And that includes changing course mid-way for no other reason than to feel as if we matter after all.
Some of us have been forced by economic circumstances to reinvent ourselves but if, up until a generation ago, your career path was fairly set in stone once the die was cast, the fifty somethings of today are changing their lives according to their changing interests. I loved music with a passion and I am grateful I was able to pursue my chosen path but, frankly, I wouldn’t see myself now wrangling with managers and artists, plotting yet another marketing plan or packing a suitcase for an impromptu trip somewhere.
Are we maybe carrying on if energy and time were still at our beck and call, a bottomless pit at our disposal? On the contrary, I believe we are very aware of our mortality and that the majority of our life is behind us. And it’s that knowledge that spurs us to do what matters NOW. Even if that means taking pay cuts and reconfiguring our material lives, all the while displaying and inventiveness and creativity we maybe didn’t know was there. Candy making in Antigua?
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Richard Curtis, writer and director of such beloved films like “Notting Hill” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” said: “Ten years ago, we (Bill Nighy and him) would have said [of a perfect day], ‘Let’s fly to Vegas, go out on a date with a movie star, get a phone call saying you’ve been nominated for an Oscar, win a million pounds [..]. We’d hate that day now.”
Not that there is such thing as too much success but a paring down of priorities, of what matters, takes place at about this time in life. It used to be that middle aged men in a crisis would get a mistress or buy a Ferrari (or whatever toy they could afford) and women would run to a plastic surgeon: it seems that fear of growing old has been conquered by trying to make a difference or, at the very least, focus our energies towards what truly interests us.
How many times has someone said to us “Life is too short for (fill in the blanks)”? Theoretically, it always maked sense but it’s only now tha it resonates. So, here we are, setting up new goals, dusting off old dreams or concocting new ones, no more diving in as foolishly after them as we might have thirty years ago, but rather making good use of our knowledge and experience, with a dash of bravado, to see if we can will them into life.
When I am really old and frail, I hope to spend the remainder of my time on earth going through all the books I am afraid I will never get to. For now, I am happy to spend my time thinking of ways to make my dreams come true. How did Paul Simon put it?
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers
Still crazy after all these years
Top photo by Giovanni Arcovito – all other images found in the public domain