Tuesday, July 19, 2011


About a week ago, I was hanging out with a couple from our discipleship group (T & S).  They are the other younger couple in the group along with J and I.  We've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them over the past year or so.  In fact, the wife (S) and I have quite a bit in common, from temperament, to anxieties, to interests in counseling.  As such, she's been great about making sure I know I feel welcome to chill with them since my hubby and I have been separated for the summer.  So I took them up on their offer Sunday before last; I grabbed up the doggy, and they brought along their reluctant toddler, and we all went for a walk on the local trail.

It was nice just to be out of my brooding shell for a bit, and to chit-chat with dear friends.  But near the end of the talk, T asked me a random question: "do you feel like you're middle-aged?"  To which I retorted: "are you trying to get beat up?!"  WTF?

Turns out, he wasn't asking if I felt as old as I looked :)  He was just relaying a scientific fact that he'd recently been pondering: as we get older, our perception of time increases, which presumably means that "middle-age" may feel a lot sooner than it numerically is.  (My guess is that he shared this because we share a deep appreciation for science and mathematics).

After my sarcastic response, I did admit that I indeed felt middle-aged.  Moreover, it's actually been somewhat difficult to deal with being a post-30 male.  As they pressed for details, I began to share with them how I had some significant dreams growing up.

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be an actor.
But my dad told me "acting is lying, and Christians don't do that" (no joke), so I abandoned that dream.  To this day, I still sorta wish I had been a philosophy/theater double major in college.  Instead, I was a biochemistry major (Spanish minor).

During junior year, I took a Sociology class, and loved it so much, that I seriously contemplated dropping biochemistry, and being a sociology major.  Similarly, half-way through pharmacy school, I contemplated dropping out and going off to get a counseling degree.  I can't say that I regret sticking it out (there's something to be said for finishing something) and going the psychopharmacology route.  No doubt, this will serve me well in the future.  (I've recently taken the GRE, and am now all set to apply to counseling programs!)

After spilling my guts about grieving the loss of some of those dreams, I began to talk about my biggest difficulty with being 30: I feel incredibly "ORDINARY".  Intellectually, there's nothing wrong with this.  Yet, I've always felt like I would be someone great.  At first I thought I would be a famous actor, and then in college, the plan was to get a PhD in genetics and go on to earn a Nobel Prize.  And with each passing year, it's as if the proverbial bar got set lower and lower, until I was stuck in the land of ordinary.

And here I am now, nearly 32.  Let's face it: it ain't gettin' much more spectacular.  Every day that passes, more decisions get made.  The more decisions get made, the more alternative decisions become impossible.  The world is filled with fewer possibilities; our dreams get crowded out by reality.  Extra-ordinary cannot be attained.

When I finished speaking, T & S began to commiserate with me about these things.  It was astonishing!  Up until that point, I had only ever articulated these fears and frustrations with J - who is still in his late 20's, and I think perhaps cannot fully relate.  T & S have both hit the big 3-0 though, and it was refreshing to know I wasn't some solitary freak dealing with this!

At the end of that conversation, I went home and reflected on it more.  It seems as though I can sum up early life's great struggles in this way: the mid-to-late 20's seem to be about discovering who you truly are (feel free to access my old Xanga blog if you want to know more about the existential angst of that process for me!)  By extension then, it seems natural that the 30's are about coming to terms with who you're not.

And viewed from that perspective, maybe being "ordinary" isn't so bad.  After all, when you're ordinary, you're not alone...


Topher said...

Thank you for mentioning this! Lately I've been so busy I haven't thought about this, but your post (and my 1 month period off from work, which started today) gives me reason and time to pause and remember all the dreams I've had and which will 99.99999% likely will never come to pass at this point. Like being an astronaut ... then an astronomer ... studying in another country ... etc. I have to remind myself that I am a lucky person, and I can love the life I have. But what about the life I could've had and which is now out of reach? That's a difficult question for me to grapple with.

Joe Moderate said...

Very interesting topic, DJ! I found it fascinating reading your post (and my husband's comment above).

Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. I can honestly say that I cannot identify at all. I don't want to be extraordinary at all. I really want to be invisible and live quietly and privately with my husband on some beautiful island in the Puget Sound (no I haven't given this any thought LOL).

Sometimes I hate this darn Ph.D. I have after my name because it raises people's expectations so high. It always sucks at work when people are like "so fix it, Einstein" or "well that was dumb. aren't you supposed to be a Ph.D. or something?" UGH. I hate that stuff.

I think at one point in my life I could identify with what you guys said--that I had big hopes and aspirations. I kinda feel like all that came crashing down in grad school and ex-gay therapy where I was told again and again and again and again that I was not good enough, man enough, smart enough, holy enough. I think any ego I had was crushed during the 6 years of grad school and 5 years of Exodus.

Now I find myself just wanting to do very simple, basic things like gardening and cooking and exercising. I don't want people to notice me or have expectations of me that I will not meet.

D.J. Free! said...

Joe, thanks for that perspective. It sounds like while you cannot relate to my dream to be extraordinary, that you do on some level still relate to my thesis that the 30's are about coming to terms with who you're not. For you, it just so happens to be that you're coming to terms with the fact that you are NOT as "ordinary" as you'd like to be. You struggle with having to live up to an expecting audience (at work, in your neighborhood, etc.) determined to have you conform to your extraordinary credentials.

As an aside to all of that, I wonder if your desire to be somewhat invisible is related to your desire not to bring children into the world? Are they both predicated upon this world being very unsafe, evil, corrupt? So the best thing to do is not bring any other innocent souls into the mix, and for those of us already here, to just keep our heads low, and hope no one bothers or hurts us?

Regardless, I kind of envy you for being so at peace with "ordinary-ness" and simple things :)

D.J. Free! said...

Topher, congrats on a month off!!! :D

Would you say this is something you've thought about before? If so, how have you managed to deal w/ "the life that's out of reach"?

Joe Moderate said...

LOL I wouldn't go as far as saying that I'm at peace with being ordinary... I'm NOT at peace because people keep frickin expecting so much! LOL I should'a been a pool boy...

I am at peace when I'm hiking, cuddling, or spending quiet time reading with my hubby. I love our family times together. So good for the soul :-)

I do think my desire to be invisible is rooted in the same thing that destroyed my desire to bring kids into the world: Exodus/evangelical church/depression. So glad that season of my life is over, but I am still dealing with its effects.

D.J. Free! said...

LOL. Well, still I think it sounds like to the extent that you're ordinary, you're at peace. Your unrest is rooted in the ways in which you are somewhat less-than-ordinary (i.e., you have a PhD - it's not super common, and so people have expectations).

I know what you mean about dealing with the residual effects. I'm still in those trenches too, my friend.