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  • Clive Vanderwagen

Three things I've learnt a week before turning 50...

I'm in Türkiye. The country.

You can't say 'Turkey' here. It's not its name anymore.

A Turkish man overheard me say 'Turkey' in conversation with Frank as we were walking along a quiet street in an obscure suburb we had stumbled upon.

"TÜRKIYE!" he screamed at both of us, while he had his fist raised in the air. Holding a half-smoked cigarette in his hand, waving it aggressively, he kept yelling the country's name, until we both shouted it back, fist in the air, like we were saying 'Amandla!,' doing a polite South African sheepish laugh, and trotting a bit faster than we were before the interaction.

I will never say Turkey again.

And I will never be in my 40s again.

Like the man, screaming Türkiye at me, I will have to say 50, loudly and proudly, when people ask my age. Then wait for their obligatory statement that I look good ... for my age.

I do look good for my age. Ahem.

I just finished reading Less, the book quoted above. Andrew Sean Greer wrote the book about a man turning 50. And won the Pulitzer for doing so. (He's just released the sequel, Less is Lost, today.)

It's about a writer, named Arthur Less, who decides to accept every invitation to travel offered to him to avoid turning 50 in his home town, and the marriage of his long-time casual lover, to which he has been awkwardly invited. He's gay, aware of his ageing, and aware of the invisibility this can produce.

Weird that I stumbled on this as I sit in a strange city, avoiding turning 50 in my home town, aware of the milestone age, and pondering what I want my 50s to feel like.

And like the quote above, I feel like I just figured out 'young,' and now I have to figure out ageing authentically. I originally wrote gracefully, but then I remembered Madonna's latest music video and was reminded that you can choose to see yourself at your age. Love her or hate her, she's ageing on her terms.

So why am I telling you all this? There is a point, I promise.

I've learnt a couple of things counting down to 50 in Türkiye. And maybe they will resonate with you.

Acceptance is powerful

I resisted turning 40. So much so that it made me depressed. I felt like I had achieved little. That I had disappointed the twenties version of me who had planned so much, wished for so much, and expected my life to be so much more than it seemed as I peered at the measly possessions I had around me.

I still had not accepted 'me'. And chosen to work with what I have. And understood that what I have is enough. I thought that the journey to happiness happened outside of me and I had to find it.

At 50, I accept that I have everything I need within me.

You have everything you need within you.

No one knows what the fuck they're doing. We're all just winging it. Just accept that you're a mess. That you're brilliant. That you're different. That you're special. That you're the same. That you're just here, living moment to moment.

We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being.

James Hollis wrote the quote above in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up, and it's become my mantra. I've accepted that all I have to do is show up. And live. In whatever way I choose for that to look moment by moment.

Deny nothing your 'self' shows you. Accept. And then you can move forward.

Choose your meaning

We are meaning makers. From birth, we find meaning in every action that happens to us and in front of us. We form scripts that take on various iterations throughout our lives, reenacting the meanings we have formed before we could form words.

Everything has meaning. A mother hugs her child when it cries. This has meaning to the child. A mother hits her child when it cries. This has meaning to the child. A script is written and lived from then on out.

Healing comes from reauthoring the scripts that were written in our childhood. Our life scripts can be edited and redrafted. Reauthored, if we're prepared to reflect. Jung said that we don't solve our problems (psychologically), we outgrow them. As I've aged, I've outgrown much, and been able to see the small, intrinsic, stitched scripts pop off and been able to step into new finery. New meaning.

I've spent much of my life trying to please others.

I've spent much of my life trying to be others.

I've spent much of my life trying to fit in.

What if it all boils down to meaning? What does it really meant to be me? Clunky. Chunky. And what meaning do I get to add? I can choose to share my life and hope that it helps. I can tell stories. I can write books. I can forgive. The latter is the final step of my forties. I will step into 50 with nothing but forgiveness.

Our life begins twice: the day we are born and the day we accept the radical existential fact that our life, for all its delimiting factors, is essentially ours to choose.

I choose my meaning.

Show up

That's all you have to do everyday. It's that simple. Get up and show up.

Cut out the shit that stops you from showing up. Stop drinking too much the night before so you're already ruining your next day. Stop thinking you need something to help you show up. Your shoes are perfect. Your tie has no meaning. Your bad hair day is some person's dream hairdo.

Just show up.

This is what is asked of us, to show up as the person we really are, as best we can manage, under circumstances over which we may have no control. This showing up as best we can is growing up. That is all that life really asks of us: to show up as best we can.

That's another James Hollis quote. And it's true. That's the meaning of life. Showing up. And you get to choose what that means.

As I turn 50. I accept. I choose my meaning. And I show up.

It's as simple as that.

1 Comment

Frank Julicher
Frank Julicher
Sep 22, 2022

Great insights Clive, thank you

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