It feels like ages that end in zero are landmark ages. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say that they want to achieve certain goals before they hit 27, or 33; its always 30, or 40, or in my case: 50.
The setting of goals requires a certain amount of self reflection and as I approach my 50th birthday I’ve been looking back a great deal, perhaps more than is really prudent. I’m an over-thinker by nature, and lately (coupled with current events) my self reflection is turning more and more into doubt, fear, and depression……. again.
2020 has been a rough year.
Maybe its the additional stress and disruption that comes with COVID; maybe I’m in the middle of my mid-life crisis. Maybe I’m just a “glass half empty” person, or maybe its a seasonal thing; probably it’s all of the above. I’ve been writing a lot less, exercising a lot less, and watching a lot more Netflix. There has been a lot on my mind, but one of the patterns I’ve been noticing in my thinking is concern over my legacy.
I’ve been collecting good quotes for a few months now, and one I found that resonated with me was:
“The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”
– William James
It has me thinking “What will my lasting contribution to the world be? How have I improved the world?” For most people that is an easy answer: their children. My wife and I don’t have children, and we won’t be having any. So the answer for me is far more difficult, and far from obvious.
Every person wants to feel like their life has a purpose, and I often don’t. There is a subtle, but powerful pressure in society to have a purpose. It’s not overt; people don’t (often) ask you to your face what your goal in life is, but there is pressure. Often its disguised as “what do you do for a living?” There is an underlying question of “how do you contribute to society”, and an implied disappointment if you don’t meet society’s standard.
One of the reasons I joined the military was to feel like I am actually making a difference. It offers me a way to be a mentor, and as I increase in rank, it will offer me a pseudo “father figure role” as well; a chance to influence the next generation. The problem is that its taking SO LONG!!! Due to a pre-existing medical condition it took years to get into the military, and COVID has delayed things even further. While all of the opportunity is still there, I’m really tired of waiting. Sitting around on my ass is driving me slightly crazy. I want to be doing something; something constructive, and positive.
This waiting is extremely stressful.
I’m struggling internally with fear as well. I have an idea for a novel, one I’ve been developing for literally years. I’ve considered that perhaps a novel could be a good addition to my legacy, but I’ve put so much pressure on myself that I just can’t start it. I’m terrified that it will be awful; which it will be. First drafts always are, it’s an unavoidable writers rule. I know this, but I just can’t seem to set my fear aside, and write a terrible novel that can be revised and re-written as many times as necessary to turn it into something decent. I’ve somehow convinced myself that if the first draft isn’t good, the book will never be good; and I can’t seem to UN-convince myself.
This internal conflict is extremely stressful.
I’m also struggling with cabin fever and loneliness. I got home from the base where I was awaiting my additional military training at the beginning of April. Other than getting groceries once a week, I rarely leave the house. Aside from a few days in August, and perhaps 3 conversations since April, the only person I’ve spoken to face-to-face on a regular basis has been my wife. (Who at least goes to work and can see real people other than me.) There are mask mandates, and I could leave the house if I wanted to, but there would be no real purpose to doing it. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and while some social interaction would feel great right now, if it resulted with an exposure to COVID, it wouldn’t be worth it, so I stay home.
This isolation is getting extremely stressful.
These are the mental struggles I’ve been dealing with these last few months. I know I’m not the only one feeling this stress, and I know I’m not the only one that is struggling. While my struggles are unique to me, THE struggle is not. These are unprecedented times, and they require unprecedented measures, and unprecedented strength. I have no answers, but I can remind people that they are not alone in looking for them.