Today I am 40. To my surprise, this milestone has prompted a lot of rumination over the last month or so. A lot of questions about whether I am living the life I really want. Whether my safe little existence in the same city where I moved when I was 24, thinking this place was just a quick stop on my life’s tour, has made me dull and uninspired.
For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with the feeling that I should be doing something more, something bigger and grander. I should be changing the world in some more significant way, or starting a daring adventure in a new city, or living on a boat, or traveling the world. I should be living some “On the Road” kind of adventure, ditching the things that tie me down and embracing the mysteries of this great big world.
What I tend to forget is that, wherever you go, you still have to wrestle with yourself. Look at my adventurer hero Jack Kerouac. He once spent two months living alone in a shack at the top of Desolation Peak, in the wilderness of Washington state. He wrote:
“I’d thought, in June when I get to the top…and everybody leaves…I will come face to face with God or Tathagata (Buddha) and find out once and for all what is the meaning of all this existence and suffering…but instead I’d come face to face with myself, no liquor, no drugs, no chance of faking it, but face to face with ole Hateful . . . Me.”
In the end, the truest story of Kerouac’s life is probably that he lived with his mother and drank himself to death at 47. All those adventures didn’t help him face himself.
My guess is that, no matter where I go or what I do, I will always have that nagging voice calling to me: Isn’t there more than this?
Maybe my birthday gift to myself can be embracing the life I have today, right now, rather than obsessing over schemes that are, for the moment, financially and logistically impossible. Today I can:
Mother a child. Nurture a family. Contribute to a community. (Respect the importance of these jobs.)
Live with kindness, generosity, and humor.
Use my talents and conviction to add good to the world. (Remember how lucky I am to get paid to do this.)
Bring a spirit of adventure to my ordinary life.
Open my eyes and see that what I need is here.
I’m hoping 40 can be my year of heeding this advice: Don’t become so concerned with creating a life of meaning that you forget you already have one.