Friday, September 23, 2005


Something unexpected happened when I turned 50. All my life I’d been seeking something, looking for a career I could be committed to, something where I could feel fulfilled, feel valued, feel that I was giving of my best, filling that one place that only I could fill, fully manifesting my unique self and so creating a legacy that would in some small way help make the world a better place. Idealistic, huh?

But in spite of moving through a number of jobs, I never got close. I had hopes, feeling that something good was only just over the horizon, feeling that there was something within me desperately trying to get out, an embryo of something valuable just waiting to be born. But that latter view didn’t seem to be shared by anyone; no-one in the immediate small circle in which I moved, anyway. And I hadn’t the grounds for faith in myself to fight through this uncertainty; on the contrary, I could find plenty of grounds for doubting myself.

Then, turning 50, there suddenly seemed to be no more hurdles ahead, no more corners to round. No life-and-death struggles of existence, just a long downhill run on the finishing straight to retirement; all I had to do was somehow, somehow survive that last 10 years. (Or maybe 15 or 20; my pension arrangements aren’t as good as they could be; like as not I’ll be working in some capacity or other for as long as I’m physically and mentally capable of it).

I’d given up. I pretended I hadn’t, made all sorts of excuses, found thoroughly valid and plausible reasons why those exciting ideas wouldn’t work – after all, if you look hard enough, you’ll always be able to find a cast-iron reason for doing, or not doing, anything under the sun. I went through the motions of searching for something new and better, even convinced myself at times that I was really considering some of those off-the-wall possibilities. Outwardly I still appeared buoyant, positive, hopeful and enthusiastic, but in reality I’d given up and in the deeper, darker layers of my psyche I knew that.

Pathetic, eh? I’m not proud of this state of affairs. What is laughable is that for a while I’d even been giving career counselling in a semi-professional capacity at work. Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach. (Sorry about the predominance of pessimism today, by the way. I quit counselling rather abruptly on Wednesday and a few things are catching up with me).

But the onion has many layers. I’ve abandoned for the moment the idea that there’s ever a core; however many layers you peel off, there always seems to be another layer deeper still. And so even though it feels today as though all the optimism is just a facade and there’s a deep layer that I keep hidden which has already given up, I can also sense beyond it another deeper layer where hope lives still. So perhaps rather say "I'd given up", I ought to say "I was living in a layer of giving-up-ness".

But what's beyond that? Is there an end to the layers? I wonder if bipolar mood swings are equivalent to moving through these many layers stacked one on top of another. What's really at the core? Or isn't there one; do the layers just go on for ever, a never-ending sandwich of hopes and fears?

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