Stephen Graham was triggered into thought-provoking action when a friend declared her life “over” at 28.
It was like fingernails on a chalkboard.
My dear friend, aged 26, had just uttered, with “bull in a china shop” tact that life was over after 28. This was during a conversation with my girlfriend, aged 30.
For three extraordinarily long seconds after this fatal uttering I felt my partner’s anger pierce through my physical being with a supernatural force.
Fortunately, and perhaps in fact due to her ‘extra’ years experience, she then mercifully ushered the conversation forward with the grace, maturity and charm I’ve admired since the first time we met. Yet, the fickle comment, no doubt intended to be taken with a pinch of salt, stuck with me.
In a similar vein, the notion of age and life stage were further magnified during a recent shopping experience; having myself just picked up the same pair of shoes as the 16-year-old standing next to me, and after we admired them in tandem, my sister kindly uttered the question (with little discretion), ‘who are you kidding?’
Safe to say, I did not walk out of the shop with the shoes… I bought them two months later online, away from judgement.
You see, approaching 28 myself, the friend’s comments were particularly poignant, as was the shoe purchase. Even if the friend was simply warbling on after one too many Sauvignons, and the sister just thought the shoes were heinous (aesthetics are subjective, after all), there was an underlying sentiment that linked the passing of youth to a decreasing joie de vivre.
Or at least that was my takeaway, and it troubled me.
The assumption (and unfortunately often the reality) with so many of us is that happiness begins to ebb away in the late twenties. This is of course far more complex than shoes and throw away comments. Scratching at the surface of how this made me feel led me to question the journey we take in life, the prescribed life stages we pass through and how our attitude affects our happiness along the way.
You see, me and my millennial compadres are often referred to as the Peter Pan generation: lost boys (and girls) with not that many responsibilities to speak of and no real incentive to grow up; older now than some of our parents were when they had us, and with nothing to show for it. This can make a lot of us feel very sad.
Social media doesn’t help either. The Peter Pan generation is also an envious one, constantly comparing life achievements to successful peers on Facebook and Instagram. A trap, seeing as social media is just the modern day equivalent of putting on your Sunday best before church.
With life set out so neatly in stages for us, a fear of reaching 28 — or whatever age you pluck out of the epoch between adolescence and adulthood — to attach some misguided significance to, is simply a fear of losing adolescent effervescence. This is also partly a fear of death, but perhaps we just don’t quite realise that yet.
Admittedly and fortunately, for many of us death isn’t a relevant question in our 20’s and 30’s, but the arrow of time is inevitable, and yearning for the loss of one’s youth is a fool’s errand. More generally, seeing life as an upward climb to some mid-life peak and then a descent into decrepitude is simply wrong.
Life pathways take many different contours, and are much more unpredictable than my friend and a lot of wider society generally expresses.
For example, many dads will have two families, and their children’s age will dominate their life stage. A traditional 60-year-old who has just given away his eldest daughter at her wedding can also be the father of a 15-year-old boy and still very much in the throw of the school run, teacher meetings and daily lunch money.
Tragically, some of us have our lives cut short early on with what was once the fear of youth passing rapidly engulfed by the more oppressive nature of the diagnosis of a chronic or even terminal illness.
There is no cookie cutter approach.
During peak reflection on this I also came across the trend-forecasting report, “Youth Mode”, published by forecasting agency K-HOLE back in 2013, which at the time offered a bastion of hope.
“Youth Mode”, best known for kick-starting the normcore trend of 2014 that saw hipsters dressing in supermarket slacks and sweatshirts from Old Navy, opens with a chapter called “The Death of Age”. “Youth is a mode,” it reads. “It’s an attitude.”
Printed alongside these words are two pictures of very youthful men. One is Mr Tony Hawk, who, at the age of 47, rides skateboards for a living. The other is 42-year-old Mr Pharrell Williams who looks, acts and dresses like a man half his age. Both men, on reflection, would have without doubt bought the aforementioned shoes in the brick and mortar store, first time around. Certainly, they have outwardly shown little fear of passing through life’s milestones.
Now admittedly, Pharrell Williams is a musician and artist and as for Tony Hawk, well I hung up my skateboard after one too many failed attempts at an ‘ollie’ down at the local industrial estate when I was 13. Both are also very rich and have had opportunities many of us do not, nor ever will. But there is something to take away from this report and the two men in question.
How you live your life is about attitude and my poor friend who triggered this piece and is dismissing her life after the age of 28 has absolutely the wrong one. As is anyone who doesn’t accept the fleeting brevity and impermanence of life for what it is, embracing it as a beautiful thing.
Worrying about life stages is pandering to your ego and a thankless task. Imagining myself twice as old as I am currently, I’d no doubt observe things around me differently, with new worries and concerns. Perhaps I’d notice that social commentary is mostly written by people younger than myself, and I’d have long ago realised career development is really only thought out for people up to 50. The impending sense of my own mortality would be the icing on the cake. But perhaps I’ll also be lucky enough to feel a sense of achievement through family, career, friends, simply being alive! I’d certainly have a lot to live for – worrying about my age would only get in the way of that!
Simply, whatever stage of life you’re in, you never know what’s around the corner and you’re only truly free when you accept this. However many laps around the sun you manage, you’ve simply got to grab life by the ‘short and curlies’ and squeeze every last drop out of it.
After all, what would you want your obituary to say?
Regardless of whether it’s written tomorrow, or in 50 years’ time, I’ll be happy if it started: “He had a really good go…” and I hope to live that attitude through each and every stage in my life.
Image: Flickr Commons/Jenavieve