I remember how great it felt to turn 40. My days of being the youngest in the room were over and for the first time in my life, I felt like an adult.
And what a life I’d lived! I’d travelled all over the country, risked my life, loved, lost, succeeded and failed. I’d hung from helicopters in the Australian outback, I’d driven alongside motor racing royalty, sold up a storm in the automotive trade and helped a small software company grow and prosper on the world stage.
My successes were many; equalled only by my failures. I had some great stories to tell, but plenty of scars, too.
But the best thing about turning 40 was I could start saying ‘no’ to things without explaining why. I was starting to feel like I finally had my sh*t together.
What followed, though, was a long period of melancholy and aimlessness. After all my years of striving, risk-taking and arse-kissing, I felt like a fraud. Imposter syndrome had taken hold and reminded me daily how little I’d accomplished in my 24 years of work.
My divorce was still kicking the sh*t out of me and I longed for meaning and purpose in my life. Plus, I thought I’d be rich by now, yet my net worth was hovering around zero. All those years and all that hustling for nothing.
But what I failed to acknowledge – and what I now know – is that I’d been chasing ‘success’ and validation from all the wrong quarters.
Since I was a kid, I believed I needed to do ‘better’ than my dad. All that meant back then was I need to have more; be more. Yet my dad, having struggled through his own divorce, was now thriving. And financially speaking, he had little more than me; in fact, he was living on less than 20-grand a year. Yet he was happy.
So clearly, he was using a different yardstick.
A lot of soul-searching ensued, manifesting in a textbook midlife crisis, during which time I searched for something – anything – that would make all these years of struggle count.
Then the Truth
When I emerged from my malaise, three things became clear.
- Some of us don’t know what we want to be when they grow up – until we’re well and truly grown up.
- What we think we want inevitably changes over time.
- We can only join the dots in reverse.
It’s only natural then that I felt like a fraud. I’d scratched around for years trying to figure out who I was, what I wanted and what I should do with my life. What I didn’t realise was I had been doing exactly what I was supposed to do all along.
I’d been sampling the buffet.
Let me show you how it all played out and how what I’m doing today makes perfect sense when I join the dots together.
I started in banking but I loved motorcycles and photography, so at my dad’s urging, I wrote an article about combining those interests and sent it to my favourite magazine. And lo and behold, they published it.
Three months later, I left the banking industry and started writing and shooting for a stable of car and motorcycle magazines. After seven years of tearing around the country and living the dream, I decided to go it alone as a freelancer.
This only worked for about six months because I lacked the discipline and the sales and marketing skills to cut it in the real world.
So I went off to sell cars. I figured I’d driven pretty much everything over the last seven years so I should have no problem deploying this in a sales environment. And I was right. I chose a Honda dealer I liked, called them up and told them why they should hire me. They did, and within three months, I was breaking records and making great money – even though the title, ‘car salesman’ never sat well with me.
A couple of years later a head-hunter lured me into running another showroom for double the money, so I took it.
On my first day there, the boss screamed bloody murder at me for leaning against a desk in the still unfinished showroom. By the third day, when he hurled a large tape dispenser at his wife’s head, I quit.
The next few years were a blur of smaller car dealerships, culminating in my arrival at a wonderful family-own Mercedes-Benz dealership. I loved it there but it lacked excitement, so I landed a gig selling advertising for the Yellow Pages. Following six weeks of intensive (and valuable) training, they sent me out into the world with a sales budget of a million dollars.
I had two excellent years there, but I couldn’t stomach another year of upselling my already over-committed clients. Besides, the Internet had arrived, and I needed to get in on it.
So I started researching software companies and after a battery of tests at an independent assessment firm, I landed a job with a wonderful outfit that designs and supports software for car dealers.
That was exactly twenty years ago, and thanks to the marvellous people who run the show, I’m still there. Today, however, I work for them as a contractor, and this affords me the flexibility to take on a few freelance clients too.
So today I’m focussed on three lines of activity:
- Strategic planning and marketing for enterprise level software targeted at retail car, truck and agriculture equipment dealers.
- Strategic planning and marketing for SMEs in the automotive, software, education and construction industries.
- Writing and podcasting on issues of midlife through this website and the Midlife Mastery Podcast.
Now here’s the kicker – I no longer feel like a fraud. Why?
The reason is this. I’m leveraging all the things I’ve learned over the last 34 years and directing my knowledge and skills towards people, businesses and jobs I care about. I’m using all of my superpowers:
- Fanatical attention to detail (banking)
- Writing and photography (magazines)
- Retail sales (Honda and Mercedes-Benz dealerships)
- Recovery from failure (quitting a job without a net, divorce, early forays into freelancing)
- Solution selling (Yellow Pages)
- Enterprise selling (software company)
- Online selling (side projects and wife’s business)
- Traditional marketing (software company and freelance clients)
- Web design & eCommerce (freelance clients, side projects, software company)
- Digital marketing (software company, this blog, freelance clients)
- Podcasting and influencer outreach (Midlife Mastery Podcast, this blog)
The upshot is I’m not pretending anymore. I’m doing, and I’m very intentional about it.
This is hard to do when you’re younger because you haven’t sampled enough of the buffet yet. You haven’t tried, risked, failed and succeeded enough to join the dots in reverse.
But once you can do this, you no longer feel like a fraud. You might be out of your depth sometimes. You might feel nervous, hesitant and unsure, but you’re wise enough now to know the butterflies signal the beginning of another growth spurt; another feather in your bow.
You’re not an Imposter
And what all of this means is, if you’re anywhere near my age (49), and you’ve been feeling like a fraud, you have permission to stop. Because if everything you’ve done has led you to this moment, you’re right where you’re supposed to be. How can it be otherwise?
Chances are, you’ve seen and done a lot over the years. Your experience is uniquely yours, complete with specific skills, successes, failures and scars. You need only list them out are start joining the dots.
Wisdom does come with age – but only when you realise you’ve already arrived. Your job, then, is to deploy that wisdom towards something that matters to you. That’s what my dad did. He took everything he’d learned and used it in the service of others – his customers and his family – and he did it with authenticity and humility.
And that’s exactly what I’m seeking to do today. And because of that, I’ve never been happier.
This article originally appeared on Midlife Tribe
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