Landmark birthdays have come and gone. As an August baby my 18th birthday was something of an anti-climax, having celebrated about a hundred others and gone through the far more significant event of leaving school by the time it rolled around. 21 came and went during my summer holidays from university and my 30th was spent alone in Morocco. Reflection didn’t play a part in any of these ‘milestones’, however as I turn 35 I find myself taking stock.
According to the Telegraph newspaper, middle age begins at 35. Ouch. Middle age is all about sprawling paunches, HRT and gardening, right? No. Not my middle age.
I am the fittest, slimmest and strongest that I’ve ever been, putting me in the absolute best physical shape of my life. I can climb mountains, skate marathons and feel no trepidation at taking on fit students two decades younger than me in physical challenges. The Spartan Sprint on Sunday will be challenging, sure, but not insurmountable – 10 years ago I wouldn’t even have considered entering. It’s not all physical joy; recovery takes longer as the years go by and gravity is an unrelenting enemy, but the mental strength that I’ve developed as I’ve aged is more than a match for the physical changes.
My career started on a high – my first job involved an element of management responsibility and consequent pay – and I doggedly and fairly successfully chased promotions for several years. I remember being about 26 and wondering how I’d cope with the crushing disappointment of abject failure if I was still on the same rung of the ladder at 30. Well I’m now 35 and technically lower than ever, having made a conscious decision to eschew management in the pursuit of happiness. This was the right decision. Growing older has helped me to discover what fulfils me and it turns out that an impressive job title with commensurate stress is not it. For me, doing my job well and having enough energy left over to really enjoy the time and money it provides me with means I am on the way to a fulfilled life, rather than just a fulfilling career. I am professionally respected and my opinion is sought and valued – that’s enough for me.
An ever-developing self-knowledge means that I have a fairly good idea what I want and don’t want. It’s only when I look back that I see how influenced I was by those around me when I was younger; I don’t think that’s a problem, I think it’s how we explore and discover, but I like that nowadays I am confident enough to be my own person. If I want to swim against the tide then I bloomin’ well will. The freedom that comes with not feeling the need to ‘fit in’ is a joyous one that only comes with time.
So as I enter ‘middle age’, how do I feel about it? Pretty good, actually. I can drink until I fall over with 20 year olds one night, discuss my clicky knees with equally middle aged friends the next before enjoying a fiery debate with those 30 years my senior later on. It’s the best of everything, the middle of everything; by definition the place from which one can see the most, making it the age at which the bigger picture is most clear and all things are equally accessible. Bring it on!