The angel of male middle-ageness appeared and told me to get a grip. Which meant running much more slowly than I normally do and dropping out of an invisible race.
Sometimes, I think manopause is the epitome of the disappointment of growing up. The realisation that you’re never going to be president, billionaire or a best-selling author. That you have arrived at where you’re going to be. But this is also the joy of the manopause. The realization that you don’t have to run any faster. You don’t have to run at all. You already are that guy and that guy will do just fine.
I also don’t know why they call it a ‘mid-life crisis’ like you’re only supposed to get one of them. I’m currently trying to avoid my third.
The first was in my early 30’s and reached its high point with me driving a car I couldn’t afford a hundred and twenty miles per hour up the motorway to jump out of a plane each weekend. Interestingly, the fact that I blacked out with fear each time (during the parachute jump, not the drive, clearly) didn’t deter me at all. I was going to be a gnarly dude, man, a Gillette-jawed all-action hero.
The second manopause was far worse.
It coincided with my 40th birthday and had me practicing beach volleyball 20 hours a week with the aim of being a top-level player. Oh, and did I mention I stopped listening to the radio in case I’d heard artists who’d achieved success at a younger age than me?
On both occasions, my course of action felt like bold ambition. Faint-inducing fear and a complete lack of sporting ability were not going to get between me and self-actualization. I was going to be that guy you heard about who despite X, did Y again and again until he achieved Z. I was going to be the Late-in-Life Success Story.
Looking back now, many years later, I can laugh at myself because good therapy and a great relationship cured me in the end. At least, I thought it was the end.
Each week, I follow what is probably the most beautiful city run in the world. Starting at Bondi Beach, I take the coastal path to Coogee and back, running a total of seven miles constantly in sight of the Pacific Ocean. On a good day I see dolphins surfing the rollers, birds of prey floating the sea-breeze, whales waving their flukes. On a bad day, like the one I had this week, I don’t see any of this. I’m too focused on the other runners, who I’m faster than and who’s faster than me.
Who is my age, but slower, or fatter, or running less far?
At first, I thought the reason for things being out of focus this week was me struggling with a run I’ve done a hundred times before. Finding myself suddenly unfit after—I admit it—a few weeks of lie-ins, I was desperate to prove something. Normally, the way to do this is to beat myself up a little harder, shout at myself louder, push myself to go faster. But this week the angel of middle-age appeared and told me to get a grip. Which meant, first of all, running much more slowly than I normally do.
This had the most amazing effect. As soon as I pulled out of the race (a race which only I was aware of), I realized I’d already won. I already was that guy who got out of bed this morning, put on his running shoes, and ignoring the weather, got onto the coastal path. And that guy, I remembered, is all I ever want to be. I don’t want to run faster than anyone else, I don’t need to even know how fast I’m running. I just want to run.
I understood the root cause of the problem. I’ve been going too fast in the rest of my life, too. I’ve been marketing myself, talking to distributors, doing press and attending events, all with the one aim: selling more books. But this means I’ve completely lost sight of who I want to be. I want to be a writer, not a guy who shifts lots of units. The trouble is, you work hard enough at anything and it’s easy to forget you don’t really want it. Ambition is the opposite of contentment and unless you keep it in check, it will infect the rest of your life.
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