It is Friday and we’re in the midst of a very strange weather pattern which has brought a sprinkling of rain to the Bay Area in the middle of June. Wrapping up my work for the week I realized I had not written a journal post to mark my birthday a few months ago and my mindset now that I’m 38 years old.
At 38 I have the feeling that this is the age at which we are supposed to conform if we haven’t already. When we are in our twenties it is considered a positive thing to explore, try new things and express ourselves. At 38 however this nagging thought grows in my mind that exploration, self-expression and so on is no longer regarded as a good thing and we’re supposed to settle, to mature and not do anything out of the ordinary. We are to remain firmly in our established routines; we should root for the sports teams like everyone else, be reserved, conservative, buy that white picket fence house and keep a tidy lawn just like the neighbors.
If I remain true to myself and follow my instincts I should try to crush these thoughts, utterly wipe them from my mind. The problem is that they keep coming back like a colony of cockroaches that can never be truly defeated.
Perhaps this is just the natural course of getting older; we all become much more boring, but in place of that word use “mature” instead. I might just lay down and decide to die if it weren’t for living in the Bay Area. At least here individualism, trying new things and being open seems to be an inherent part of the city’s character. Friends here are more open and I find opening up a conversation with strangers to be much easier. What hasn’t turned out as I had expected is older relationships from my high school and college days. I believe I’ve written about this before but would still like to do so here.
At 38 years old only your best high school friends will remember the bonds and experiences which made the friendship. These memories and friendships no longer burn bright as they once did but instead now give off a soft glow as the years of life experience and infrequent contact have dampened what once was. If the embers are not stoked the friendship will most likely extinguish in a small, unnoticed wisp of smoke.
The majority of my high school classmates do not engage on our Facebook page and I wonder if it is because my generation did not grow up with technology and social media; perhaps it is because they are older and have set routines, and as I mentioned above are now more conservative; maybe it is simply due to the number of years that have passed and memories have all but been extinguished. Or perhaps it is because at 38 years old, things outside of set routines are rarely done, such as being in touch with all your old classmates all at once.
I guess it is easy to notice that I’m pretty disappointed that more of my old classmates aren’t very interested in getting back in touch. We learn with each new experience and this is an experience that did not turn out as I had hoped. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
I’ve been back in the USA for nine years now and am content with living in San Francisco. There is still a very big part of me that wishes I still lived abroad. This is something that those who have not lived overseas will never understand and it cannot be explained, it must be experienced. They are the ones who consider living abroad to be a brief experience but that one should come back here to “settle” aka mature. There are those that never come back and part of me wishes I had chosen that path. The only reason this thought does not drive me to despair is that the excitement of living overseas soon dies and life becomes “normal” as the hardships become more apparent and complaints about the host culture increase. At 38 I’ve come to understand that the magic and enthusiasm for life comes from the mind; it can only be sustained by realizing this truth and consciously improving the thoughts that come and go. I am now able to discover completely new worlds (literally) by peering through my telescope, by noticing the birds, or feeling the texture of a flower. Traveling overseas puts discoveries right in front of me, but there are discoveries to be had in my own backyard, in San Francisco, in the Bay Area, in California! I just need to have the thought and take action on it.
When we are young the world is a very exciting place as experiences are had for the very first time. As the years go by the joy of life seems to have its highs and lows but on the overall becomes faded like an old photograph. At 38 it takes an effort to bring back the joy of life but can easily be done. How many people take notice of the sunrise and sunset everyday? When was the last time you saw an adult really inspect a flower or try something new? When was the last time you had a really deep and honest conversation, like the ones in high school that were full of passion and excitement for the future? At 38 we start to become predictable, to become bland like a sauce with no spice, just traditional old Ragu straight out of the jar. In order to add some spice some get divorced, trade the wife for a younger model, buy a cool car or motorcycle, that sort of thing. Some simply want to try something new and as I mention above those around them may view it as a classical midlife crisis, something odd, out of the ordinary, something negative.
For me, I do not have this problem. My adventures never ceased after coming back to the USA and I think a big part of it is the decision to live here in the Bay Area. There is always something new to discover, another beautiful place to explore.
Children are another piece of the happiness puzzle to being 38. Some choose the safe path, stay at home, take the same family vacation to the same destination as everyone else does; after all that is all they know or have thought to do! Children can be such a burden as one can now never do what they want when they want but, as they say, are completely tied down in an almost literal sense!
I’ve found the way to escape this jail is to bring the kids along! There are so many adventures to be had and my sons have helped me rediscover much of the magic of life. The trick is to simply find an activity that is enjoyable for everyone. Biking along the coast is an easy one and soon we’ll be having proper picnics on the beach now that I know how to set up a lean-to and my son has lost his disdain for sand. With the right mindset I’ve traded a jail for two more companions that will continue to grow and be able to do more things. Golfing, shooting bow and arrows, long hikes, mountain biking, exploring distant locales, having a pre-made MMORPG guild, the list goes on and on. In the beginning having children is such a sacrifice but the returns are excellent and much better than never having invested at all in my opinion. As I mentioned above, the experience of living overseas can become drab and even bothersome and I believe the same goes for a single life. One can only go to so many bars and clubs, date so many women and experience new things before it all becomes routine and loses its luster.
As for corporate life I’ve come to understand it is free-for-all. The MBA graduates will try to convince you that there is such a thing as a “corporate family,” which only exists in the minds of the marketing and HR departments. The word “family” denotes something permanent, something stable. In comparing corporate life to family, then Dad has been replaced three different times, Mom left for another family and we’ve been told that siblings we grew up with went out to “pursue other opportunities.” When I came back to the USA I was pretty excited about joining the business world but like many things in life it has not turned out to be what I had imagined. The HR people will saturate employees with messages that the corporation “cares.” Nobody cares in a publicly traded company, maybe they do in small family companies or startups, but these will soon be bought or go out of business. Even if the President or CEO is a good person and like to care he/she only serves so long as the stock does well and shareholders make money. When this happens it is like a family cookout where the weather is perfect, the hamburgers are grilled to perfection and even Uncle Jeb and Uncle Grant are getting along and seem to be enjoying each others company. But when the stock goes south it is all discord and although the house may still be beautiful on the outside with a freshly cut lawn and newly sprouted tulips, inside the atmosphere is as ominous as in the movie Sleeping with the Enemy. Dad has turned abusive and is beating everyone, mom is about to flee to one of her boyfriends and the kids have locked their doors and are hiding under the bed. Money rules the roost, not love and care. The notion of corporations being akin to family is an outright lie.
The thought that I should not write such things, keep it all to myself now creeps back into my mind. After all we are being continually judged and opinions being formed about us. What safer strategy then to just remain silent, keep thoughts and feelings hidden? There is a part of me that begs to employ this strategy but happily there is another greater power which trumps all negative thoughts and feelings. It is the gratitude I feel for being alive, to live another day and have more experiences; I want to write them down and record my thoughts, emotions and experiences. I do not want to turn in to a bland ragu sauce trapped in a jar of fear. The only person I can rely on to really enjoy life and make it enjoyable to others is myself.
And with that I think I’ll end this post.