I hit 50 last year, and clichéd as it may sound, the fact is I reached something of a crossroads in my life.
It coincided with all sorts of shit going down.
Maybe that’s only to be expected on reaching 50, I’ve no idea. Whatever.
All sorts of shit.
Anyway, a year on, and I’ve finally made a clear decision about the direction I’m going to take from here.
I’ve chosen a proper difficult path. A challenge to say the least. It’ll involve taking a lot of risks, and there are huge obstacles in the way.
Still, as the song goes:
‘The going won’t be easy, but I’m going to make it.
It’s the only thing that I’m cut out to do’*
I know I can make a success of it, but how?
That’s the question.
Well, for a start, I can draw on the inspiration I’ve stored up from being fortunate enough to have met a lot of successful people in my life.
In amongst the millionaires, celebrities and medalists, perhaps the most successful person I’ve ever met was a penniless, homeless man living mostly in Brighton (if you don’t know about, or maybe even haven’t heard of Brighton, by the way, you should probably rethink everything you think you know about Britain!).
I bumped into him by chance on an eerily deserted street during a lockdown (remember those?! Ah, those long pandemic days!). He asked me the way to the river, and explained he had just left hospital having apparently astounded every doctor, nurse, cleaner and porter he’d encountered there by not just surviving, but thriving through a heart attack!
There’s a delicious irony in the fact that he chose me, of all people, with my interchangeable left and right and continuously spinning internal compass, to ask for directions!
I gave it my best shot. The expression on his face said it all. So instead, I offered “I can show you if you like?”
As we walked our protracted and unorthodox route, vaguely in the direction of the river, as best as memory served, we talked and I heard one of the most extraordinary accounts of a life survived against all odds I have ever heard, and ever will hear.
There was only one question that was ever going to tumble from my mouth in that moment:
“How are you still alive?!!”
(Ok, two questions!)
“‘Cos I’m not done yet!”, he beamed.
“Well fine! That’s why!” I countered, “but what I’m wondering is how? How on Earth?!”
He went on to explain that everything he’d been through in his life, all the failed attempts and the victories, all the loss and what he’d found, all the pain and all the relief, had taught him one thing above all; who he really was.
He explained that he knew he was capable of living in a house, getting a job, being “just like you”. He recalled even trying it a while ago, out of curiosity you know, accepting a room in a house. “Hated it. Too quiet. Too still. No life. Couldn’t get out of there fast enough! Back to the beach with me!”
We had lunch together, on me of course (trust me, if anything I was getting the better end of the deal as far as I was concerned!)
By the time we had thanked each other, said goodbye and wished each other well, it was crystal clear to me that this was a man, despite all appearances and conventional wisdom, that was living his best life. Not a life most of us, including his past self no doubt, would probably ever choose, but his life, as it turned out, in which he was at his best.
“‘Cos I’m not done yet!”
It honestly wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn one day that he went on to become a millionaire, a celebrity and a gold medalist. It was abundantly obvious that he was capable of achieving whatever he hoped to.
Equally, he could still be penniless and homeless, deciding to just listen to the waves crashing under the pier. Surviving as only a very select few can manage so successfully.
Either way, he’ll always be perhaps the most successful person I’ve ever met.
Living his life.
Enjoying his freedom.
Against all the odds.
Absolutely what he was cut out to do.
You know, I think this might be along the lines of what brainy psychology scholars call ‘the authentic self’? Not sure. Psychology text books just don’t grab me in the same way as The Sandman and the collected works of Hawkwind!
Whether that’s strictly correct or not, I think the message is clear:
Be who you are.
If you don’t know who you are, just do any you.
You’ll fail, and you’ll succeed.
You’ll learn whatever you learn.
You’re not done yet after all.
I should probably clarify that I haven’t made a mid-life decision to be penniless and homeless by the way! (at least I hope not!), or to be a millionaire celebrity medalist for that matter, but simply to go in the direction that I believe is truest to who I am.
It’s difficult. Our society pressures us to conform. Being you is inevitably an act of defiance against that sometimes.
But I’m going to make it.
And so can you.
*Lyrics from ‘Damnation Alley’ by Hawkwind (RIP Robert Calvert)