At 44 years old there are a few career paths that I’m going to have to cross off the list. For example, it seems pretty clear that I’m never going to make it as a professional tennis player. I am not the next Van Gogh. Concern pianist? No. Prima Ballerina? Definitely not!
Actually, I never really wanted to be any of these things. It’s just sobering to recognize that my options have narrowed and that these are no longer available career paths. I won’t be a dancer! Bugger. While I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far in my career, I’m certainly not finished. Older and wiser – definitely wiser – I feel that I am just beginning. I’ve had good positions in great organisations, but those were just experience for what I am really meant to do! …I’m not quite sure what that is, but I am confident that I still have a lot of great achievements left in me.
Does anyone else feel like this?
Why am I suddenly thinking about this? Well, firstly, I recently applied for a position that I am overqualified for. Really, I should be a shoo in for this role. I’m not being egotistical – I can say this with certainty because I have done this job before. I did it well and apparently I was well regarded. I got promoted to other more senior roles and I have excellent references to vouch for that. I didn’t get a call. Not even a whisker of interest. It’s not the first time this has happened to me and so, despite my best efforts to suppress my doubting thoughts, I am questioning my relevance to the market place.
Secondly, I was watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted presentation, “Your Elusive Creative Genius” in which Elizabeth raised an awful, but valid, question. Has my best been and gone?
“And it’s exceedingly likely that anything I write from this point forward is going to be judged by the world as the work that came after the freakish success of my last book, right?” …. “– it’s exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me.”… “That’s the kind of thought that could lead a person to start drinking gin at nine o’clock in the morning.”
Elizabeth Gilbert , “Your Elusive Creative Genius”, Ted
Elizabeth was most definitely NOT trying to tell Gen X that our best is past. In truth she was talking about the reality she faces as the author of a mind-numbingly awesome piece of work. Is it all downhill from there? However, Elizabeth’s words have been reverberating through my mind and sticking pins into a hyper sensitive nerve. Regardless of how much I believe in a glorious future, maybe I am in denial. I’m an optimist, so I am good at denial! But frankly these thoughts bring me close to picking up the gin Elizabeth refers to… in my quiet moments I am scared that maybe this is true.
I’m a great believer in self-fulfilling prophecies. So I think that if I believe that my best has already happened, then it is true. So, quite simply, I CANNOT believe it. That’s it. I Googled and there are plenty of examples of people who have had their greatest success after mid-life – these are the “late bloomers”. I’m not sure that I love that term. But it is, what it is. Colonel Sanders (Harlan David Sanders) established Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 65. I don’t relate that well to KFC… Then there’s Henry Miller who wrote his iconic first novel, “Tropic of Cancer” when he was 44. William Griffith Wilson turned his life around and wrote “Alcoholics Anonymous” when he was 43. There are more, but the most interesting one is actually Elizabeth Gilbert. After causing me all this stress, Google tells me that Elizabeth is 44. Forty-four – just like me! Maybe we’re twins 🙂 Elizabeth has recently published a new book, “The Signature of All Things” – and it’s in the best seller lists. At 44. Go Liz!
I take heart from these examples. Inspiring things have been achieved and great works produced by people over 40. Is there room for me? There is no reason why not, but it won’t be easy. While age and experience give me some advantages, most notably the resources to try – life has heaped on disadvantages too. I am more risk averse, I am ridiculously busy looking after my family and doing stuff (work, friends, administrating life) – and I do believe that our world favours the young. There are enough essays on this without my adding to that body of work – maybe I’ll revisit this subject another time. However, what I take away from the examples of these late bloomers is that they have demonstrated that determination and perseverance worked irrespective of age. It’s a never say die attitude that is the key to blooming late. So no more gin at 9am. OK?