Saturday, September 29, 2007

Regaining a sense of purpose...

Although my official 30th birthday (a weekday) was passed in a fug of non-stop sneezing and high temperatures, AFTER having to go to work dealing with the new class as well as surviving intense meetings with departmental heads, and not being able to go out on the town as I had to be back at work very early the next morning - on reflection (and that was after quite some time has elapsed), it was probably fitting that I shouldered on my adult responsibilities on the day I became an official adult.

I remember reading in some magazine a long time ago, when a female columnist was rambling on about her fear of turning 30, that for her it was a brutal wake-up call as she asked herself this rhetorical question, "how could one be an ingenue at 30????" At the time I read this I was in my mid-twenties, thinking by age 30 I would have sorted myself out and would not have to ask myself such mind-numbingly pointless existential questions. Turned out the joke was on me. I had (and still have) immense difficulties saying goodbye to my 20's because I don't want to let go of the image of myself as young and carefree, that I still have my whole life ahead of me and all the possibilities in the world to pursue at my leisure. It was bad enough turning 25, when I missed being in that prime advertising target group of 18-24. But I realise now how lucky being late-20's was compared to being in your 30's. This wasn't helped by a segment in the BBC breakfast show the other day that says that 30's is officially a woman's toughest decade according to a survey by a women's health magazine.

I know of course that a lot of the above has to do with one's attitude. Life's possibilities do not start or end with any particular age (well, apart from childbearing, but I'm not freaking out over that). I DO still have my whole life ahead of me, and I should be and I am really grateful that I do. It is the "at my leisure" part that is freaking me out. There is a palpable sense of time running out, that I have more to lose than before, that there is now a certain level of gravitas attached to the decisions I make because I'd have to make every single one of them count and cannot afford to make mistakes...

But actually, you know what, strike that last part out. The perfectionist in me says that I cannot afford to make mistakes even when I was just 17 and deciding on what university course to take. The philosopher in me now says that it is not about the mistakes I make, but whether I learn anything from them. I know for sure now that whatever I do, there'd always be an opportunity cost of what could be if I have taken the other option. Do I still have the guts to take the road less travelled? Do I still have the guts to go after my dreams? The real mistake is to let my past so-called mistakes prevent me from pursuing my life to the fullest.

Perhaps that's the real reason behind my sense of regret at turning 30 - I wish I'd have achieved more in life by this birthday. I thought I would have been feeling pretty secure in the career I've chosen, that I would be in a stable relationship, that I would really know who my best friends are, that I would have written a prize-winning, best-selling novel (a "heart-breaking work of staggering genius" that really deserves that title)...

But on reflection, the above are slightly more superficial things compared to what really mattered: figuring out who I am and what I want. And on that score, I haven't been doing too badly. Especially lately. My 20's were in some sense my wilderness years, when I lost the sense of purpose and naive optimism I had coming straight out of college, and haven't been quite able to replace those with anything other than false hopes and occasional caustic cynicism. Until now.

My meetings with departmental heads on my birthday, though gruelling, did help me clarify for myself who I am and what I am about. That I am no longer prepared to take any more shit from anybody. That I have a lot to offer, and do not have to sell myself short. Also, I found out who my real friends are, and that my family cares about me, a lot. I just have to make sure I spend time with them, to make sure these people remain in my life, and I in theirs. They are the people who matter.

To quote from the new Mastercard ad campaign: "Knowing who are your real boss. Priceless."

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At Tue Oct 02, 02:27:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

I would like to reserve a copy of your prize winning novel.

At Tue Oct 02, 08:18:00 p.m. IST, Anonymous Tourist said...

30's is still golden age for both men and women, the now internationally acclaimed Ang Lee, shot his first film when he was 37, a bit too old to start his film career, but he's the first Chinese ever to win an Oscar best director at his early 50's, a lot quicker to win a world-renowned award than many directors who started their career at a much younger age.
and the master, Michelangelo Antonioni, also started his film career when he was at his 30's.
Many Hollywood stars, like Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, female stars like Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer.... still flourish at their 50s or 60s, So age means nothing, it's your talents and opportunities that count.

At Sun Oct 07, 10:10:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Thanks Laichungleung and Tourist for your really kind words... Your encouragements are most heartening. Thank you so very much *bows deeply*

Tourist, thank you so much for pointing out all these successful people who found their success and indeed their true calling late in life. Their examples are really inspiring, especially Ang Lee's. Sincere thanks for showing me that it can be done :)


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