22 August 2010

Life Really Does Begin At Forty

Life Really Does Begin At Forty

I am 42 now and I have finally worked out what the phrase "life begins at forty" means.  It came as a Pauline moment as I was driving home the other day.  It really means that you only ever plan your life until you get to about 40 years old*, so now that you have reached that point you can reflect on what you have done so far - for better or worse - and then decide what you are going to do for the future.  It's an acceptance of where you are and what you haven't achieved, and that perhaps that's okay and even a good place to be.

I am not Prime Minister, or even Deputy Prime Minister, I have not won Wimbledon, nor am a hedge fund manager earning bazzillions, nor a multi-squillionnaire Internet entrepreneur and I have still not written that book or painted a beautiful picture, and I will never play for England (at any sport) and so on.  But who really would want to be those in any case; let's leave all that to those with the tunnel vision to succeed in shaping our world.  I just enjoy life, living and become randomly interested in things that will never make money, nor help you rule the world, but nevertheless keep me pottering on. 

Anyway, at the same time, I started trying to piece together my LinkedIn Profile, which was in a sorry state as I have never touched it nor accepted anyone onto my page, hence I look a lonely, unloved individual.  So while struggling to cobble together my disjointed career path (still a work in progress so anyone who remembers what I have done over the years please fill in the blanks), I became reflective on what I had actually achieved since university and where it is going.

In the end, this is what I came up with:

Massive Positives: love of a good woman (Sophie), 2 fantastic children, wonderful parents, siblings, lovely mother-in-law (yes really) and a lovely little cottage in a beautiful part of the world (North Yorkshire).

Achievements: setting up Steenbergs with Sophie and starting that on its tortuous path.  It's like being on a small bicycle rickshaw in Mumbai that's slowly, gathering its pace while manoeuvering around the gas guzzling juggernauts that speed past us trying to knock us out of the way.  But it's a good ride and we'll get their in our own time, on our own path and without damaging anyone on the way.

Regrets: only one surprisingly, being I wish that I had continued with Microbiology/Molecular Biology for longer than the degree at Edinburgh University.  I was quite good at it and actually enjoyed the nerdy science.  At the time, all I wanted to do was get out of education and conquer the world, but I did not let that path run for long enough.  In fact, I realised this about a year ago and is most of the reason that I have started doing a degree at The Open University in Environmental Studies/Science, so perhaps I will be able to overcome this one.

Mistakes: loads and loads of them, and still going on collecting more.  They say you learn from your mistakes - well, I have got a PhD's worth already.  In fact, there is only one that I would count as truly bad and that was leaving investment banking to join Teamtalk.  The mistake was not Teamtalk itself, even though the experience still runs shivers down my spine and wiped the smile from my face and laughter from my body for many years afterwards.  It was more that I was too young and "wet behind the ears" for the tough corporate situation that it became, so while leaving investment banking was right I should perhaps have waited until I was older, stronger and more experienced or moved into a bigger corporate where I could have matured in a more protected environment.

What have I learnt? to be good and tolerant, to persevere with those things you believe in whatever the obstacles and to carry on smiling, laughing and dreaming.

Where's that leave me: content in the most important family part of life and where I live, plus a lifetime still left to enjoy all of them, while nudging Steenbergs ever onwards and time to complete an Environmental Studies degree, and research my family history.  Sounds good enough to me.

* As an aside, I reckon we can only think in chunks of about 7 years maximum in normal living and about 41 years for life planning (or 29, 31, 37).  These are purposefully prime numbers as this is how humans have become hardwired through evolution.  So for relationships, investors and politicians, 7 years is long term and 41 years forever.  That random idea is perhaps for another day.