When I turned 36 in 2003, I wrote this brief blog on my family website rismania.com:
“I’m so bald. And fat. I shouldn’t have skipped so many classes in high school. I shouldn’t have listened to my friend Corey when he dared me to jump in that river when I was 18 – my ankle wouldn’t be bothering me so much. I definitely shouldn’t have smoked so much dope and dropped so much acid in college. I should have listened to my mom more. I shouldn’t let the little things get to me so much. I should be much more bothered by the big stuff. If I would have taken a few risks in my life I’d be rich and famous now without a doubt. I’m a coward. I took the easy way out so many times. I come across much more confident than I am. I’m an imposter.
In a little more than an hour I’ll be 36. How the fuck did this happen to me? In a little more than an hour I’ll be 36. How the fuck did this happen to me?
Maybe if I keep talking it will sink in. But I doubt it.
You know what I notice about being 36? You’re smack in the middle of everyone. 20-somethings look at you with pity and foreboding (“DUDE – you are wicked old! Is that your skin falling down your face?”) and those older than you regale you with a patronizing “You think 36 is old? You’re a pup!”. Like these idiots know anything about my life or what has brought me here. Frigging 40ish idiots. I will be you someday.
At 36 you’re at that point that getting out of a chair is starting to elicit small yet audible moans. When you’re 36 and you catch a glimpse of the on-air talent at MTV for a second while channel surfing you’re suddenly overcome with an awful sense of dread and fear of who will be running the country in your old age.
Its 36 years gone. Just like that. At the speed of light. In the next 36 years I will very likely be dead. Just like that. At the speed of light.
Happy Birthday to me.”
I seem to be a little pissed off about 36. I’m not entirely sure why. I know that likely I was just trying to be funny, but there is definitely a subtext to this that has given me a serious WTF moment. As I turn 50 years old tomorrow, I cannot even remotely relate to this anymore.
I wrote this 14 years ago – literally almost to the minute. What has changed? Why was I so tangibly angry about turning 36? I had two amazing children and a wonderful fulfilling life partner. Those things were awesome. What could be wrong?
Fourteen years ago I was working for someone else. I was not happy. Every day was a struggle with very little satisfaction – monetary or emotional. Money had never really been a driving force for me in anything I did, but doing something I enjoyed was critical. I was getting neither.
Come to think of it, in 2003 I had pretty much stopped doing any of the things I enjoyed. I had given up acting years before when I realized I would never be able to put a roof over my head doing it. Likewise with music. I had stopped playing live years before, and had quite literally stopped playing and singing altogether that year – even at home.
At 36 I was caught up in the minutia of raising kids. It’s an exhausting place to be. I wouldn’t change a thing, of course, but that doesn’t take away from how draining it is to be completely and utterly dedicated to meeting the needs of these tiny beings. And when you are down deep in it – in the weeds – it’s hard not to feel regret. You may not want to admit it, but you know it’s true. It’s not valid, or even real. It just is.
It’s kind of like I turned 36 and had one of those stop-and-pause moments that you ask yourself “Am I where I wanted to be?” And I obviously didn’t like the answer.
But the truth is, I didn’t know where I wanted to be. I never did. It was an unanswerable question. I was judging myself based on impossible criteria. Holding myself up to a standard that I would never achieve. Setting myself up for failure.
Sometime very soon after I turned 36 I realized this, and almost immediately everything changed.
You pretty much know how this turns out. I still have the same brilliant and beautiful wife and we raised two incredible humans despite our best efforts to screw them up. I have a spectacular business partner and we own one of the busiest Managed IT Service Providers in the Toronto area, helping small and mid-sized business achieve their business goals through our technology. We do it really well.
I started playing music again. I play it all the time. I can’t believe I ever stopped. Nothing is better than being handed a glass of great scotch and having a piano bench pushed under you by your friends. And after 25 years without theatre, I jumped back in again a few years back. It has been one of the singular joys of my life to be immersed in the local theater community. I have met some unbelievably talented people who are now among my closest friends. I consider myself – quite literally – to be the luckiest guy in the universe.
When I turned 36 I had a realization. This life owes me nothing. I forgave myself for my own failures and moved on. I stopped being a bystander and became a participant. I am not perfect, but man, am I ever grateful and fortunate.
Happy Birthday to me, indeed.