Have you ever had that feeling that you haven’t done anything significant in your life? Or that you haven’t been able to live the life of your dreams? If yes, you are not alone. Generally, we tend to think of life as one indivisible unit. We feel all is lost now that we are past the prime of our youth. That not much can be done. Today, I wish to offer you a different perspective. Something I’ve observed in my own life and in the lives of numerous people I’ve known and met. (Embrace yourself for a really long post. It’s a matter of life, no kidding.)
Life is anything but one chunk. Indeed, it is made up of a series of moments and experiences. What if I told you that in one life, we actually live many lives? And that it’s up to us to make the most of every life we live in one lifetime. Every decade we live through turns us into a different person. Each decade is a new life of sorts.
0 – 10
From the age of 0 – 10, we are often under the shelter of our parents. Our identity is deeply linked to theirs. We learn how to speak, talk, behave, eat and so on. Their beliefs are our beliefs. We observe them and start acting like them. Softly, with all the right intentions, our society conditions us to look at the world in a certain way. We start imitating our parents, teachers and others without even realizing. We form our biases and prejudices. A world view begins to take shape in our minds based on what we observe and absorb. Our imagination is wild. Transformers and dolls come alive in our play as do Lego sets. Candies taste amazing as does anything else with sugar. Our dreams our fantastical, well, they are dreams. We are eager to learn new things and we feel we can be anything or anyone we want to be in the world.
11 – 20
Between 11 – 20, we begin to form an identity of our own. We discover, or grapple with, our own sexuality. We learn to question beliefs and parents start to take a backseat in our life and dreams. We want them when we need them. We form our opinions about everything (and mostly, even unfortunately, stick with those opinions for the most part of our lives). We feel that friends are important, my own goals are important, my parents are boring and their views are old-school. We explore life boldly, treading the uncharted territories.
Girls, gadgets and bikes, or, boys, dreams and fashion rule our minds. Maybe video games and books too (not coursebooks). Infatuation, attraction happens everyday. You fall in love quickly – as easily as slipping on a banana. We make some dumb mistakes (we do that in every decade, for that matter). Our view of ourselves begins to solidify in our head. Most young adults categorize themselves as losers or achievers by the time they graduate out of their teenage. Our life starts to shape accordingly. Distractions galore.
We feel that we have already made most of the major decisions of our life. Particularly, in terms of choosing a certain stream of education or learning a new skill (music, dancing, sports etc.) This decade, however, was not just a carry forward from the earlier one, but an entirely new one if you think about it. As you discovered yourself or found your own two feet during your teen years, as you survived your confusions, you lived altogether a new life. The child you were in the first ten years was not the one who solved the problems of this decade. The new you did it. By the time you are past 20, you emerge a different person.
21 – 30
From 21 – 30, while we are still bold (even reckless), the reality of the world brings a subtle change in our dreams and goals. We align ourselves according to our beliefs, often malformed and misinformed, of what we can and can’t do. You fool around bit more, but somewhere you start searching for “the one”. You are a bit more realistic. Midway in this decade of life, most of us are done with the traditional education and we feel joyous at landing a job that secures us financially. We feel we have discovered our independence. You remove the poster of Ferrari (or your favorite pop star) from your room and buy your first basic car on a loan. By the time we hit thirty, most of us feel ready (or are pressured by the parents) to cement our relationships and get married etc.
While there are disappointments, we remain mostly optimistic and upbeat. We also realize that it’s a fiercely competitive world out there and no one has time for anyone else. With our primary focus on our careers, we no longer dream the way we used to earlier. We are more realistic in our expectations from life. We like to think of ourselves as more together, wise and “practical”. Even though we are still exploring life, a stagnation starts to set in. Very few people take up learning of any new skill at all once they are past 25.
31 – 40
Between the ages of 31 – 40, we give our best to grow in our careers. Most of us live through the whole decade balancing work and family commitments. Our childhood and college friends are long gone. We may be in touch with a handful (if that), but most of them are busy in their own lives anyway. With your own children growing, there’s too much happening at home all the time. Everything is getting more expensive, you figure. A chunk of your earnings go in repaying your home loan. You think about savings too. I don’t have to buy a new phone or those shoes.
We also become somewhat indifferent to others’ attitudes towards us. A realization dawns on most people that we can’t keep everyone happy. That, we must not neglect our own happiness. You reflect on what used to make you happy when you were growing up. Perhaps you used to play guitar or cricket back then. Or maybe you did painting or dancing. But these are distant memories. Maybe you always wanted to do swimming or play tennis and occasionally you even contemplate taking it up.
Then, you look at your responsibilities and other commitments and you put your own dreams and desires aside. A sort of sadness creeps in because you know that you must not neglect yourself yet you do it anyway so others (your spouse, children etc.) won’t feel bad or accuse you for not being there for them. This starts to gnaw at your soul – knowing what makes you happy, having the resources to do it as well, but not doing it for the fear of alienating your loved ones. It hurts at times. Meanwhile, the emptiness of life continues to build up.
41 – 50
41 – 50 is yet another decade. Most people hit midlife crisis in their early forties, especially those who lived their life by the book. What the hell am I doing here? This was not the life I’d dreamt of in my teens, 20s or 30s. Have I wasted my life? I gave my last 20 years to my family but no one still seems happy, much less grateful. I never took care of myself, I put them first, yet I’m just a lonely cloud floating with no direction or strength. Yet, you talk about politics, sports, climate change and other world issues. Perhaps, you are now interested in meditation and your belief in God is stronger than ever before.
You know you are still young and have great physical strength, yet no one around sees you that way. You are seen as someone who’s entered the “middle-age”. It’s not an easy phase. You feel you are not young enough to take bold risks and not old enough to avoid any. Brimming with intellect and energy, a lot of people in their 40s develop a sort of frustration. Some even become bitter. They have all these gifts and intelligence but there’s a lack of avenue to put them to use. Most people shudder even at the thought of trying something new in their lives at this juncture. They feel their destiny is to now execute the choices they made in the earlier years. Only those who have a passion for life embark on new journeys (intellectual, financial or otherwise) in this phase of their life.
51 – 60
Between 51 – 60 is yet again a different ballgame altogether. The thoughts of planning your life post retirement are playing at the back of your mind. The pressure to ensure that your children settle into their own lives is also there. Two partners get to know each other more. You kind of mellow down a little. Most people live through this period with a sense of resignation that I’ve done whatever I could with my life and now I must get old gracefully. I must be a certain way. You don’t want to change jobs for a bit better pay because you are done with the running around of a headless chicken on steroids. You wish to take it a little easy now (more like a thanksgiving turkey).
Chances are your children have moved out and they are now busy in their own lives, with their new families. New relationships are formed (with relatives-in-law), new misunderstandings arise. You feel your children don’t understand you and they feel you don’t get them. Gradually, you learn to rely on yourself more and more. You finally get it that devoting a life to making others happy, at your own cost, is absurd and lofty. And, it doesn’t lead to a fulfilling life.
61 – 70
From 61 – 70, you are pretty much on your own. Your spouse is there and yet the only person you can count on for your happiness is you. Everyone around you says, “I’m tired too”. “Whatever you did was your duty,” you hear. This triggers a strange vairagya, detachment. You may be a grandparent and yet you become childlike yourself. You reminisce and maybe you even miss your parents who you once thought were no longer needed in your life. You recount your childhood, you recall beautiful memories of the past. Maybe you read newspaper everyday, watch a bit of TV, sometimes your children call you up or you call them, perhaps you socialize occasionally, but mostly you are on your own, in your own world.
Most people won’t even think about trying anything new during this decade. They think they must accept that they are “senior citizens” now and there’s no more to life than what they’ve already seen and known. It’s anything but true though.
70 – 80 & onwards
Between 70 – 80 is a strange phase. Some daily routine completely overtakes the life of many people. No one wants to die but most have lost the will to live. There’s little charm left. Even grandchildren don’t fascinate you beyond a certain degree. You feel everyone is only interested in what you can give them. Deeply spiritual people find great solace in the privacy of their minds, but most remain restless. They become “annoying” for their children who are living through the challenges of their own adult lives. And one day, the children receive a call and everyone gathers for your funeral. Of course, they’ll be sad for a little while. But for a little while only. They will socialize on that occasion, it’ll feel like a reunion to them. They’ll also recount what a great person you were. But it won’t be the central theme. Your life won’t be the highlight of their day. They’ll be busy making arrangements and all.
It wasn’t my intention but I think I’ve painted a rather grim picture of human life. All for a good reason. Because, what I want to tell you is that it really needn’t be this way. Your life is not one big mistake. Just because you haven’t been a chess, piano or a math prodigy doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything now. No one can bar you from trying new things (regardless of your present age.) Just because you were deeply religious or an atheist all your life doesn’t imply that you can’t change your beliefs now. Keep your life fresh if you want to enjoy it.
Finally, here’s the perspective I alluded to at the beginning of this post:
Imagine if you lived each decade of your life as a new life. A fresh start. A new beginning at the turn of every decade.
Between 0 – 10, I learned numerology, astrology, Vedas and so on. 10 – 20, I devoted to learning computers and securing work in the industry. 20 – 30 I focused on my career and built businesses. The first few years of my third decade I dedicated to the discovery of my own truth, of my existence. And then helping people in whatever limited capacity I can. 40 – 50, I plan on doing a bit more writing. While I made many mistakes, throughout my life though, my choices have not been accidental. I prefer to set my goal for the next decade before it shows up at my doorstep.
I hope that you think hard about it: what if you lived a new life in every decade? Whatever be your current age, how do you plan on spending the next decade of your life? Will you be investing a part of it in something that holds some value, meaning to you? It can’t just be rearing your family. Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to do? Well, now is the time. Devote a significant portion of your time and you’ll master whatever you fancy.
Really think about what you will do differently in the next decade of your life. 25 – 35 or 30 – 40, 60 – 70, or 75 – 85, it doesn’t matter. Just live your decade as if it’s a new life. Let the new you come out. Years don’t matter, commitment does.
A moment of fulfilment is greater than a lifetime of drag.
A 7-year old asked his friend, “Do you believe in Satan?”
“I’m not too sure,” the friend replied. “Like Santa, he would probably turn out to be your father as well.”
Santa or Satan, Buddha or Buddhu, ignorant, you pick your role. Your life is in your hands and it’s never too late to plant a seed. It’s never too late to embark on anything new. It’s never too late to be adventurous. Life will never bore you if you don’t stop living.
Tagore once said, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
If you want to feel that joy, you must begin by serving yourself, by valuing yourself, by caring for yourself. Responsibly. As they say, you only live once. Well, you don’t have to. You can live many times over in one lifetime. Naively, I’d thought I would wrap-up this post in 1200 words but even after twice as many, I still have much to say.
Your life is a beautiful, precious gift. Open it, cherish it, use it. Whatever it is, let’s shape it into something you care about.
You are not a morsel thrown at some destiny. You are not at the mercy of your fate. You’ve as much right to life as anyone else. You can live many beautiful lives in this very lifetime. Live a new life every decade with the same childlike curiosity, ignorance, willingness and dreams you had when you were in your diapers (alright, maybe a little older).
To what are you devoting the next ten years?