Excavation begins at Forty. It may take a decade before you reap the benefits.
I entered my forties as a single mom of two children in primary school. I entered my forties before Marcus Buckingham had written his life changing books on strengths and weaknesses. I had grown up in a society where, as he so aptly explains, parents are geared to honing in on the lesser grades on a child’s report card, in order to encourage the child to work hard at these to bring them up to scratch. It was a society where strengths were taken for granted, even ignored. Natural talents, because they came naturally, faded to the background while parents and teachers patted themselves on the back every time a child managed, however unhappily or stressfully, to transform a four on a report card into a five.
But not only was this how society was when I was growing up. It was even more so within the family where I grew up. My father believed wholeheartedly in gearing yourself to be good in areas that would insure you had a decent career later. You can be good at almost anything, if you put your mind to it, was his motto, and in my case he was, to some extent, right. I had a natural aptitude for learning in general, and was capable of gaining reasonable grades for most subjects. Not that I was happy all the time. By the time I had reached my final years at secondary school, and having changed had to change my particular combination of subjects several times, as we moved from place to place to accommodate my father’s career (also a normal course of events back then), motivating myself to study at all was an enormous chore. At eleven, when I entered grammar school, I still had subjects like Music and Art and Cooking on my syllabus, as well as English and French and Maths. I played piano, violin and sang in the school choir. At fifteen and three schools later, I was unenthusiastically taking Latin and Gaelic to mention but a couple of subjects that I loathed.
From there to university to study Commerce (business studies). Without going into too much detail, let’s say I scraped together enough points to graduate, but with no idea what I was supposed to do next.
And for the next almost twenty years I see-sawed between working, motherhood and a writing career that though spiritually fulfilling did not exactly put food on the table. Well, it didn’t matter anyway, seeing as I was married to a high achiever, who didn’t seem all too bothered about my seeming lack of success.
But on the eve of my fortieth birthday the excavation was kick-started into gear when my marriage failed and reality hit. Here I was, a highly educated, intelligent woman, who, despite her college degree, had no idea how to merge all her skills and find a job that was worthy of her education but one that would allow her creativity and thirst for knowledge to shine through. And remember, I was brought up to believe that achievement was all down to willpower, not to natural aptitude. My willpower which is both a blessing and a curse, led me to dust the cobwebs off my business degree and get myself back out there seriously, to earn a living. Of course, with that in mind, I didn’t even consider my creative side. Not for a moment did I think I ought to integrate it into my working life. Somehow, what I did at the work place and what I did because I enjoyed it and because it gave me a sense of completeness, were two totally separate issues.
So, out came the business graduate, albeit one with far too little experience for her years. And so began a decade of catching up, and frustration, and at times a sense of despair that I was slowly losing myself. I was good at what I did, of course. But I could be good at so many tasks, and the actual learning curve was exciting, but short lived. I felt a very brief sense of achievement that I had mastered some task or other, but continuing to carry out that task, day after day, week after week, was soul destroying. Several of these peaks and valleys later, it became clear to me that switching companies was not the solution, since it would probably be a case of ‘same old same old’ and so I opted to stay where I was and convince myself that the pay-check and the stability I offered my children was enough.
I read book after book on spirituality and self realisation but somehow did not know how to apply it to myself. I spun round and round in ever decreasing circles, feeling more and more tired at work and becoming increasingly desperate to fulfil myself in the few hours between coming home and going to bed. Writing in such a fatigued state became almost impossible, so I took up painting which at least kept me sane.
Until at forty five the opportunity to start merging my two separate selves started to present itself. Slowly but surely I distanced myself from the financial, analytical side of business and started to use my creative talents too. My natural aptitude for texts and languages was put to use as my employer expanded world wide and needed a more international profile; my eye for design was utilised for a more modern website and both of these were exactly what was needed to become the company DTPer, web localiser and magazine editor.
Yet it would take another couple of years before I took these talents seriously. In fact, when I thought about taking them seriously, the cold hand of fear gripped me, probably because it would entail me going against how I had been raised.
It would take a downsizing of the company and my imminent redundancy for me to take the plunge and start my own business. Not as someone with expertise in finance, but as a creative DTPer and translator. My business skills and intelligence are not wasted, since they will help me structure the business effectively, but they are not the core of what I do. The activities at the centre of my company and the services on offer, are my love of language and the pleasure I get from giving new and existing companies, however small, the support they need in presenting themselves to an international market. I realise that effective communication is my strength and being able to share my own experiences to give someone else a leg up is who I am.
It only took me fifty years to get there. I got there with the help of Marcus Buckingham, Huub van Zwieten, and other motivation gurus. But there had been many other signs and oracles earlier in my excavation process that encompassed the entire decade of my forties; it just took me that long to listen and to shake off the deeply embedded preconceptions that I had internalised as a child and teenager. What was right for my father and his post war generation, is luckily being re-examined and revised for today’s society. We have made a shift in perspective, and we are at a much higher level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It isn’t just about adequate survival in the jungle, it is about self realisation and, dare I say it, spiritual fulfilment too.
I take comfort from the fact that I am obviously not the only one to be confronted in this way. If I were, then there would be no need for these books and revelations. And, to conclude, better late than never.
Writing, reading, authentic living. It's all here at The Writing Process
Welcome to my blog. Let me start by telling you that I love writing. I love the sense of vitality it gives me. I love that it helps me to make sense of the world and to the people in it. I love that it helps me become wiser, more intuitive, empathic, and most of all autonomous.
All aspects - reading, writing and observing - are what make the process complete. The essence is storytelling, and learning about
life and yourself.