This Post is a reflection on Time and the impact it has on us personally, socially and economically. We get our four score years and ten, but even this is still not so straightforward. What we actually get is essentially a bunch of discrete decades. 1-10 we are children, 10-20 teenagers, 20-30 young(single) adults, 30-40 young parents, 40-50 prime of life, 50-60 senior management, 60-70 senior statesman, 70-80/90 retired and waiting for the grave. Inspite of exceptions to the rule, and whether we recognise it or not, these are the stages of our lives, we need to recognise, manage and make the most of them. I suggest most of us fail to recognise the structural reality of our lives and don’t make the most of them either. I know for certain that to date I haven’t.
As a kid, 1-10, you get what you get in any case, our ability to either know what we should be doing, or being able to do anything about it is completely constricted. In the event it falls to parents to determine the path of our first decade. If all goes well them we turn out as well socialised, optimistic and full of potential. Conversely, it matter not a jot if some starving child somewhere might have been the next Einstein, if they have been malnourished as an infant or severely dehydrated then their mental capabilities are now crippled for life. Only well-feed and well nurtured babies grow up to become “Great”. I had the immense benefit of a good childhood (mostly, haha) and that did set me up well for the rest of my life. But on the other hand, unless you keep the program on track you can still end up lost.
The teen years are going to be tough anyway. There is a lot happening and in general just surviving them is a pretty good achievement. But that is not the same as making the most of them. Looking back in my own example, I certainly didn’t mess up my teens, but I certainly wouldn’t say I aced them either. I finished them not having a clue what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. There is a cute saying about some of the most interesting people you will meet didn’t know what they wanted to do when they left school – and they still don’t… Yes, I understand what the meaning of that is, but it is disingenuous too.
Leaving your teens without a clue means drifting into your twenties with no direction and no plan, I know all about that, that was me to a T. Your twenties is the time for building your adult foundations – working hard, building a work history and reputation, learning about life and love, travelling and connecting with other young singles. This stuff is actually surprisingly critical. If you miss out on this stuff here you will likely only recognise later in retrospect what you missed. This stuff matters and it matters specifically to this age group. By the time you are into your thirties, it is too late to do some of this stuff again. In our twenties, the other young people we are meeting are also single, ten years later they will not be. All the “good ones” will be taken, what is left is problematic – I’ll leave it at that. The size of the pool has shrunken too, if you haven’t got the basic relationship game sorted already, you are left trying to swim in a bit of a desert. Interestingly, the further you get past your twenties, the less adaptable you are to the compromises involved relationships. In your twenties, you are still adaptable, learning and growing.
As for work, well it helps a lot if you understand what the game is, and what the rules are. And the rule is that you need to be building steps. One step leads to the next and then to the next, hopefully with a pretty clear plan of progression. Otherwise you do what I did, you have a go at this and that because it looks like it’s interesting, then move on when you get a little bored. But there is no binding theme and in the end it is not just you that doesn’t know what to make of it all, neither does anyone else. Your twenties is the time to be get experience, to actually learn how the world works, what sorts of scams and schemes are run, what sorts of people are out there, and for laying down an experiential knowledgebase. So that when you get into your thirties you can say “yes here’s my CV, I have spent three, or five, or seven years doing this and I am skilled and competent, I have a direction”. It’s called “doing your time” and it is actually very important. You need a plan and to stick at it. Which is kind of rich coming from me, seeing as I managed to avoid doing exactly what. However, if I have any regrets, that would be one of them. Particularly that I didn’t recognise what I was letting slip away. Your twenties is a time for getting some things done and ticked off the list, I simply didn’t understand. It’s not the end of the world if you aren’t on a plan, some people aren’t built that way, but you have just made things a whole lot more difficult down the line if you have to play catch-up.
Somewhere in your life will come the “block course”. This is the time when you will almost certainly need put in a solid 10 years doing the one thing. Whether that is raising a family or sticking at the same job in order to provide the security for your young family. For many people this happens in their thirties, for others it is their forties. It isn’t too critical one way or the other, but I will make one point. Raising kids and teenagers is not something that is going to get easier with age. If you have children between 30-35, you are essentially at your prime for health and fertility with strength and endurance. You will be able to keep up, and when your last child turns 21, you will 56. If your children are born when you are 40-45, then you are going to be in your sixties and trying to raise teenagers – best of luck. Again, there is no cast iron rule that says you have to be breeding in your thirties, but there are a lot of reasons why it is perhaps the optimal time. My point is, be aware of the reasons and rationales of all this, and of the chain of consequences involved. To have your first child at 30, for most people requires that they are already settled into a stable relationship, have an acceptable degree of financial stability and are working to a plan. Winging it without a plan means you have almost certainly made it harder for yourself. The trick to all this of course is to realise at about 25 that all this is relevant and proceeding with understanding.
Your Forties is perhaps the time of your best combination of skills and qualities. Interestingly, or perhaps that’s ironically, it is also the time for your mid-life crisis. You get to ask – what exactly and I doing and why? On the positive side, this should also be the time when you are most able to handle a major life change. You are mature, healthy and competent… except in all the ways that you are not. But that’s OK, you are still young enough to change and learn and grow. And you may not even have this problem at all, in which case you can just continue on securing your family’s security and prosperity. For nine out of ten people, this is their family time, your kids are turning into real people, and you can have something of a second childhood yourself, playing and spending time with them while they still think you are pretty cool. If we did but recognise it, this is likely the best time of your life, make the most of appreciating it. And recognise that what comes next is fifty and up, that is not something trivial or unimportant.
I suspect a lot of people get a bit of a shock when they turn fifty, it has kind of crept up on them while they weren’t looking and suddenly they just ARE. Fifty is middle aged. It means you will never be 20, or 30, or 40 again, inspite of what any number of middle aged men may wish to believe. It is why so many sports cars are sold and Bimbo’s bought. But more seriously, it is also a pivot point. What comes next, is critically determined by what came before. If before now you weren’t looking or thinking about the trajectory of your life, then you have just about run out of options to do anything about it now. All those openings for bright young things on their way up are locked out for you now. Many people find that being fifty means they aren’t going to get that next promotion, they will be passed over and sidelined. They just become a place holder, ticking away doing the same old, same old – right up until the next recession or restructuring when they are kicked into touch. It’s tough finding a good new job when you are nothing special and mid to late fifties. On the other hand, those people who did reach fifty on the fast track or with a business and a successful track record, they are now running the world. They are senior management and making a lot of money. They have the particular skills, contacts and knowledge that makes them the best at what they do, they can do the demanding in the whole supply and demand equation. But it’s not an accident; they got there through deliberate planning and understanding of the necessary steps. These are now the people planning and deciding for all the rest of us, this is their time and they have essentially the decade of their 50’s to make their mark and execute their ambitions
Sixty to seventy is a subtly different age to the previous one. Apart from the fact that nominal retirement falls in here somewhere, It should also be the point where you are nurturing the next generation. The high fliers are grooming their successors while they move into the chairman role. For everyone else it is the last stretch through til retirement. And for all of them, suddenly a decade doesn’t seem like very long at all. If you were going to do something or had a plan in mind, there is alarmingly little time to get it done. If only because an alarming number of people fall off the perch around here. If you expected to retire and live another 15 to 20 years, think again. Almost all professions have statistics saying half of all their retirees are dead within about a year. I’m not sure I entirely buy that exactly, but the core of it is that there is a BIG mortality spike around the mid 60’s. Even if people aren’t dying, their health is almost certainly much more fragile. Once again, what you did in your younger days is increasingly benefiting or costing you. What you can do at this point is becoming less and less effective relative to what you have done in the past.
As we get older, somewhere or other we pass the point where we stop growing and start dying – where what can be done is less and less in our control, and our past is the increasingly rigid determinator of our present. From seventy to eighty (and longer for some) this is the all-too-quick dash to the finish-line of our 4 score and ten. This is where we get to wait for God, or the pine box, depending which expression you prefer. Actually it needn’t have to be as morbid as all that. If you are suffering from poor health then it might not be much fun, but on the other hand, accepting the limitations and welcoming the benefits means that this is still a stage of life offering meaning. Hopefully you have a say in what sort of legacy you leave and can work on that. The grandchildren can be enjoyed, spoiled and then handed back. There is still a life to be enjoyed, but undeniably it is also a consequence of what came before. Arriving here by accident means that you are very unlikely to have many choices available. And from here, there is no afterwards, this is the end of the line. No-one has ever got out alive. Your eight decades lived are the whole game.
I hope you enjoyed them all. I hope you realised, while you could still make a difference to proceedings, what the rules of the game where, and how late it really is. Yes, it all depends on what it is you want to make out of life, but even so, my estimation is that from the time we get half a clue about what is going on around us, we are pretty much playing catch-up. I wouldn’t say I am stupid, but I recognise now the extent to which I was late appreciating a whole lot of stuff about life. Being late means you have a lot of ground to make up later. A life is not really a linear thing however it may appear at the time. It does actually come in stages, and if you can manage to make the most of each stage as it offers you its opportunities, then you are very wise to do so. As I said though, the trick is to be wise when you are young. That’s no easy trick at all. I do sometimes wonder if the old were telling me all this stuff at the time, or if I just couldn’t hear.
Perhaps I can teach my own child this stuff, maybe she will even learn and understand it – in time to be useful. The world will still turn regardless, but I like to think it would be nice if we can pass along some wisdom and knowledge, and avoid having to repeat all the same old mistakes.
I will write a Post on that soon too I hope.
Finally, thanks to Elizabeth for teaching me some of this stuff. 🙂