Life in the forties

“All three are hip-deep in midlife, when the eyes go and the waistline spreads and the city on the hill that shone so brightly in youth turns out to be more like a semi-incorporated town in the middle of a garbage strike. An age when a person can feel not so much himself as an inexplicably inferior version of himself.”

I sometimes get startled that I’m firmly in my mid forties now, a fact that is both humbling and mind numbing at the same time. I’m no longer young and I am not exactly a senior yet which puts me in the middle of nowhere zone.

My student years in the nineties seem so far away already and the green horn years of the new millennium have also started to recede into my personal history. There was a time when the nineties were considered the new age – people from my generation can relate to phrases like “star of the nineties” or the “beckoning of the 21st century”. Well, all that already has a layer of the sands of time over it.

Forties are infamous for the proverbial “midlife crisis” – a sobering decline into reality from the heady optimism of youth. On the positive side, I find that I can understand and weigh things a lot better – probably my thinking tempered by real life experiences. And yet, I’m fully aware that the older you grow, the more things you have to leave behind, its a circle of life.

I’ve been chained to a cubicle for over 20 years now. Well, its no longer even a cubicle.That has been replaced by what is commonly referred to as open plan seating. The MBAs have created a fancy term for this called “high performance workspaces” – something which fosters teamwork and collaboration. This deserves a post in itself so I would limit my rants on it for the time being.

Like many people of my generation in India, I was part of the herd – having to chose between Engineering and Medical. Anything outside of these was considered risky and frivolous. I always loved the sciences but also enjoyed the languages and particularly history.

Anyhow I underwent the raging fires of competitive examinations in India and got a bachelors in Electrical Engineering. This was followed by the typical foray into the burgeoning IT industry where the jobs were. Today there’s a lot of emphasis on loving what you do or choosing a career where you have “passion’.

I always looked at my job as something that gave me enough resources to enjoy the good things in life and I’m grateful for that. Though I don’t really spend my free time thinking about work or all the related political circus one has to perform to survive. I spend most of my time outside work reading and writing.

At this stage of my life, the responsibilities are also at their peak. Like everyone else we are resigned to the mortgage, children’s education and other myriad responsibilities. No one told us of all these things when we were young and thought adults were the ones bossing around kids and having the most fun!

Years ago I watched a movie “About Schmidt” where Jack Nicholson plays the protagonist. He’s old and about to retire having spent most of his working life in an insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. Its a favorite of mine with several heartbreaking scenes blended with dark humor.

Incidentally, I too spent a couple of years in Omaha but that is besides the point. There was one quote in the movie which went – “I know we’re all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?”

It seems scary that I was supposed to feel like this nearing my retirement but I’m already having these thoughts in my forties!. The desire to break the mould and do something I love like writing is strong and hence this blog as a minuscule attempt towards breaking the general monotony of daily life.

I know these feelings are universal and unrelated to where you live or what you do though responses and solutions out of this rut of midlife can be different and creative. Obviously there are no quick fixes as anything worthwhile needs hard work and time to grow. It’s foolhardy and suicidal to just start afresh without any planning or direction.

I would love to hear thoughts from anyone reading this on how to make life more meaningful and worth living while trying to balance everything else life has thrown at you by this age.

 

 

 

Quiet

“Introverts like being introverts. We are drawn to ideas, we are passionate observers, and for us, solitude is rich and generative”   

Some years ago I came across Susan Cain’s book “Quiet”. It talked about introversion in a very encouraging and insightful manner. Mostly introversion is looked down upon in the society. Right from childhood we are conditioned to believe that one needs to be outgoing and sociable to succeed in the world.

The way introverts were portrayed in schools, workplaces and even at home seemed like a character assassination to me. As a child I was reserved and loved books though I never had trouble making friends. I hated social occasions and crowds. As I grew up I discovered that I was very comfortable in small groups and could make good conversation with strangers.

But I knew I wasn’t someone who was the life of a party or who always wanted people around. On the contrary, I liked calm, meaningful discussions. So I knew I leaned more towards introversion on the social scale. It’s both impossible and futile to put labels around people to describe their unique and complex reactions to the world around them.

Introversion is often confused with shyness. I have no problems in starting a conversation around a table of strangers but I might not be the one to take the initiative always. I detest mundane small talk but can talk for hours on something that interests me. All of which are labelled as classic introvert traits.

In my mid forties I have started to understand myself a lot better. I have found that despite the social pressures to conform, being authentic to yourself is something I find most genuine and easy. I no longer go out of my way to be someone I’m not. Instead I find that I’m more at peace taking that solitary walk or reading a book.

In the corporate world, introverts suffer often. They are discouraged with banal comments like “low energy” , aloof or even arrogant at times. This despite the fact that they are excelling at their jobs and have the respect of their peers. I have never understood the compulsion to make everyone a “high energy” ,loud cheerleader.

Modern offices with their open area seating plans are a disaster for introverts. It feels like being in the middle of an endless din throughout the day. I like to take few walking breaks to keep myself sane. These workplaces touted for maximizing productivity often achieve quite the opposite result.

As unique beings all of us have certain quirks, idiosyncrasies and behaviors rooted in genetic and environmental causes. It’s impossible to club these myriad behaviors in a person and call them an introvert or an extrovert. But then that’s the way the world sees us.

I believe respect for individuality should be paramount. Live and let live.