I am 35 years old today, not quite young but not quite old yet.
The other day, I was just thinking how the past 30 odd years have been somewhat like a giant race. There are the teen and early twenties years that I spent in “training”, preparing for the big race that would come, though exactly what I would be racing for, I really had no idea.
In University, I would work my way close the starting line, and handing in my thesis, going for my convocation, getting the piece of paper that was my degree, the equivalent of “Ready, Get Set, Go!” and the bang of the gun. I was off.
For the latter years of my twenties, I ran, and ran, and ran…again towards some elusive goal that I had no idea about. Those were the years when I wanted, wanted, wanted…something, anything; the years when I was in a rush to fulfill something, anything; the years when I rushed, rushed, rushed to have it all; the years when it felt like failure if I hadn’t achieved ten thousand goals; the years when everyone else around me seemed so bright and purposeful and driven that I felt like I had to be as well; those discontented, stressful years where every day was a deadline for something that I didn’t quite care about; the years when I was happy, oh yes, I was very happy….but when I was sad, I was very sad…
And finally, at thirty, I stopped to take a breath…and realised that all the other competitors had crossed the finished line and received their prizes; that I was only halfway round the track; that those prizes that all my peers were receiving…were not what I wanted; that I really didn’t know what I really wanted anyway.
And the big 3-0 ended up being a miserable, lost and directionless 3-0. The race was over; I had not crossed the line. Should I continue to run and hope to cross that line in eventuality? But I didn’t want those prizes offered. Should I look for another race, another line, another prize? What prize did I want anyway? I was also tired out from that first race; I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to run another race. Should I just quit the racing world…and do what?
Add to it the conditioning I’ve gotten over the years, that if you weren’t doing something, you weren’t anything. I’ll be frank, at that point, I just wanted to veg somewhere and watch TV for the rest of my life, but I couldn’t get past that little voice in my head that tells me that I will be judged as a useless leech if I do that. And yes, I didn’t quite care about being a useless leech, I’m done with; but I do care about being judged as one. As to what that says about me…
So anyway, years thirty-something after that were spent basically just struggling to find that exact goal to work towards, something quite different from the racing in the early years that got me so burnt out, but something that would still justify my continued presence in society (to others, that is. I can justify to myself pretty well) while making me happy.
I didn’t know what that goal was, but I knew that I wanted to go all out looking for it. However, I would first need a safety net before I could actually “go all out”. I know that is pretty ironical but unfortunately, I do have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with security (proven by a couple of personality test and a therapist) that I haven’t been able to alleviate in the last couple of years. So instead, I decided to work around it. Early retirement, or FIRE, or enough-money-to-never-have-to-work-again, or whatever you choose to call it, was to be my safety net, from where I would feel secure enough to launch myself into the unknown and see where I end up.
The interesting thing is that once the FIRE goal was identified as feasible, I stopped feeling that I needed to prove anything to anybody. Perhaps, it may be because that FIRE in ten years is such a big, audacious goal in itself, that it already feels like a justification of sorts if I do manage to accomplish it. Anything that comes after is nobody’s business but mine since I already paid my dues. It doesn’t mean that I would proceed to a state of vegetation after achieving FIRE, but feeling like I could without censure has freed my spirit up quite a bit, and I am actually excited at the thought of the future, where before, it just seemed like one dreary race.
So, at 35 years old today, I have no long list of accomplishments, just one big, audacious goal of FIRE for ten years hence, which will then become the means to more goals, large and small, audacious or not, in the future.
And what else will there be in my life between 35 and 45? Will I simply live in limbo until I achieve FIRE at 45? I have to confess, I don’t know. I only know that I have at least found my path again, and am not lost any longer, and that goes a long way towards making me content, if not exactly happy. I think I will continue to explore off the path, a little by little, whatever my inherent laziness and need for immense security allows me to.
So that’s where I am on my 35th birthday. Admittedly, it is very different from what I imagined 35 years old would be when I was just a little bit, and would probably have sent me into a permanent depression if I had any inkling then of what was to come. But now that it is right in front of me, it doesn’t feel quite as bad, which gives me hope that however much I dread the 60s, 70s, and 80s, I would probably feel quite contented when they do come eventually.
Happy birthday to me, then.