The last decade for me has been a mishmash of all sorts. I think it can be aptly described as the age of the pendulum because in almost every area of my life, I swung to both extremes. In basic science, we’re told that the net displacement for a pendulum bob is zero. So though it moves, it is stuck. This, my friend, is the worst kind. The main struggle I had…due to intensity and frequently was perhaps lust vs. chastity. I certainly lost this one by all accounts. Fundamentally because chastity is lost but once; but also because few other things in my life had such a metronomic cadence as my back-and-forth between renewed attempts to keep myself (relatively) pure and fresh failure.
This is a vein that runs deep! For this came to define my moral and spiritual journey over the entire period. Saved perhaps, but not changed by grace. Over time, I found this to be true: only an expansive grace could accommodate the freakish monster I’d become. Greater still was the one that eluded me: the greatest grace is the one that refuses to leave the sinner the same. I still haven’t made sense of the pain and the shame- the faithful sentinels and constant spectators as I dared to do battle with the Maker of my soul on one hand, and the slave driver called Flesh.
Looking back now, I see it all as an enigma of sorts. How can I explain it? How can sloth cohabit with industry? How quickly can neural pathways be erased to permit shifting from one life defining pattern to another? I understood work and independence. I didn’t struggle with the humility required to sometimes scrape through life. Yet, inexplicably I must say, I had this huge sense of entitlement. I was no stranger to huffing and puffing whenever things didn’t go ‘my way’. In hindsight, I can honestly say I had it good. It only appeared rough whenever I refused to take off my rose-tinted lenses.
I enjoyed the athleticism of youth. Yes, my use of past tense is deliberate. I tried to take care of myself and be disciplined. I played sports regularly and worked out nearly every day. The benefits were clear. I was fit and healthy (and enjoyed the attention of the ladies). All this until I succumbed to the trifecta of fats, sugar and salt. Everything tastes better with these three. Years of discipline flew right out the window and a sedentary lifestyle kicked into high gear. I’m still fortunate not to have picked up any major ailments but the doctors have been sounding the alarms for 4 years now. Plus I’m in the twilight of my 20s looking like I’m 42. I guess I had it coming.
My first salary in my 20s was about 15k! It was bliss. I had everything I needed and so much more to spare. I actually recall taking extra money to school to pay for lunch and to buy extra pens for people. I was living the good life. As a result of my earlier referenced industry, this income did climb by several multiples in my mid- 20s. But by this time, I was always in debt, living from paycheck to paycheck. I’m not sure I can fully explain it. All I can say is there was a subtle shift in the definition of my self-worth to what I owned. Clothes, gadgets…stuff. It’s been downhill since. My income has continued to rise but the ‘quality’ of life is stuck in a downward spiral; and I must add that this really has nothing to do with my growing ‘responsibilities’.
I used to be that guy that everyone wanted to talk to. I was the shoulder to cry on, the sparring partner, the buddy. Now, I’m lucky to be married to a beautiful woman who loves me, and to have one or two people who can still stand my guts. Even in wider circles, I seem to have simply lost the art and heart of relationships. At first, it was about pruning unhealthy associations, then pride, laziness and selfishness took over. I became the axis on which the earth rotated…in short, the very orbit of its revolutions. The satanic trinity of ‘me, myself and I’ took over the reins of my life. But for mercy, I’d have been leading the lonely life of a septuagenarian by now.
Poet. Musician. Playwright. Novelist. Essayist. Sketch Artist. Painter. Public Speaker…to name a few. I’m none of those things today, 10 years down the line. How come? I overdosed on a senseless admixture of sloth and fear. I started my company at 24, failed twice and packed it up. Mediocrity has been my watchword ever since. Just get by, don’t rock the boat, keep pulling your punches and you’ll be just fine. I settled instead for quick fixes of doses of narcissism. The irony of being told ‘wow, you’ve got something here’ for a decade was completely lost on me. Perpetually in a state of potential, mindless of the fact that the clock ticks away impartially.
Perhaps the one area where I didn’t ‘swing’ too badly was in my intellect. I wasn’t immune per se, it just wasn’t as bad as the others. I learned early that the mind is a terrible thing to waste. At first it seemed fortuitous but in retrospect, providence guided me thus to unearth a thirsty mind and to find nourishment for it. I recall being called crazy and a wanna-be as I discovered my love for classic literature. I realized that I had a keen mind and sought to improve myself though I really had no idea of the implications of that. A curiosity as I’d never known prodded me and I went along as best as I could. Until…
Until I stopped to look around. I found that I had a head start on those around me. Even when they appeared to be ‘doing better’ in some areas, there was no direction in which I looked that I was so far behind my peers to cause too much discomfort. This I think did as much as anything to hinder my journey. I realized too late the folly of comparison. No matter where I looked, I was always bound to find three things:
That I was worse off- this leads to complaining and pouting
That I’m better off- a false sense of pride and accomplishment
That I’m at par- this kills off any initiative to reach higher
In summary, nothing good can come out of comparing yourself to others. I can’t even say with all honesty that I’ve learnt this properly because most times, I still have my eyes looking sideways.
Am I a failure? This is a really tough question because I have succeeded at nothing and yet I still feel like there’s enough ‘life’ ahead of me to excuse me from such a weighty appellation. Secondly, I’m not sure I have really come to terms with what ‘success’ should be. Without mollycoddling my internal brat, the truth is that I’m on my way to being a failure. Maybe I can’t say so for my entire life just yet, but it is certainly true for the past 10 years. It just hit me now…if I don’t live another day, this will be the story of my life! I have one life left…one last shot! Oh wow! Perhaps I should be grateful that I’m even aware right?
Goodbye 20s. You tried to be a good teacher to an obtuse student. You patiently repeated my lessons, hoping I’d get it but I foolishly remained blind and obstinate. Writing this means you haven’t given up on me. So I also won’t give up on me. I hear that it gets harder in the 30s and thanks to my hard head, I’m ill-equipped for that. However, I’m hopeful…I think I’ll make it through. Not just grinding my teeth and enduring one day after another, but actually thriving. It won’t be easy but life will not be worth it if I don’t try.
So long 20s. Hello 30s!
Please feel free to leave a comment even if you’re not yet at/past this milestone in your life. I’d like to know what your perspective is.