Another Year. I am 42 this year. It's the first year I have actually felt 'Not-OK' about saying my age. For a long time I have been a Young This or Upcoming 30 something That. Now I would only just count as a young football manager or maybe Prime Minister. The number of things to be Young-At seem to diminish by the year. I feel accepting of this, but a little depressed.
So what of ambition? Writing in the Observer on Sunday, Tim Lott speaks of middle-age as liberation from needing to show that you are 'it'. He feels pleasantly free of the need to prove himself. Which is fine, actually, very nice - in a sense. But what if that turns you into a bit of an idle knob-end? Someone who used to do lots of good stuff and now, frankly, can't be arsed because he doesn't need the approval any more?
You do notice it though, this loss of drive for uber-attainment. You kind of realise that achievement, a bit like money, gets you high for a bit - then leaves you feeling just like your old self again. Recognition used to be a big one for me. It got me proper-motivated, willing to walk through fire. Now I've had a little fix of it, I'm not particularly bothered any more. It's done my confidence the world of good. Which, given my formerly super-size inferiority complex (now about average), was probably for the best.
Is 'can't be arsed' liberating though? I am not so sure. One's neediness, I find, simply displaces itself. You get money, it goes to making a difference. You make a difference it goes to recognition. You get recognition it goes to..something else. How many middle-aged blokes do you see in the quiet desperation of the the car showroom or the ill-judged shag? In my case, the same old stuff needy stuff whirrs round, begging for the busyness of life to drown out the noise.
When do you feel happiest? In my case it's when I am throroughly absorbed in doing something. Work is often that something but writing does the same job, as does running and reading. The social scientist Czensenzilaghi wrote about 'flow'- that state of being where we are in the 'zone' and we lose self-awareness. That's, for me, the place to be. I love it, I feel most alive there, even, far more so than when I am trying to enjoy myself. Which seems like a paradox, somehow. Out of ourselves, we are our best selves. It's true enough, though.