I recently met up with a girl I knew from Bermuda, whom I hung out with as a teenager. She is the same age as I, and we are both contemplating life after 50.
“I am tired,” she said. “But I have nothing to retire for. What will I do?”
She has achieved great heights in her career, as the chief legal officer of a large investment bank. She has put all her eggs in her career basket. Her teenage daughter who lives with her ex has not spoken to her in years. She does not have a close relationship with her parents. Nor does she have any close friends.
“How about reestablishing connection there?” I suggested.
“Naw, I screwed up juggling too many balls once upon a time,” she answered. “My past is a no-go zone.”
“I had to be extraordinary,” she lamented. “Bermuda is so far away from the rest of the world, nothing ever happens there, and I wanted an exciting life. And I wanted to be extraordinary.”
Almost all management, parenting and lifestyle advice books exhort us to be extraordinary, to break the glass ceiling, to be masters of the world, to get to the very top.
What most omit to mention is the cost and the sacrifice to get to the top, a post that you hold for a short while until the next ambitious person who is prepared to sacrifice more or has more resources oust you from your perch. Nobody is top of the world forever, and when you fall, who is there for you? What is down there?
“You’re only as good as your last deal,” someone once told me.
If you had used all your resources to build taller and taller ladders, is there anything left to cushion your fall? What’s your home and garden like, if you never spend any investment there?
Most of all, it is often not mentioned that most of life is to be found in the ordinary: feeding a family, sharing a precious dinner together, sitting down to watch the news, waking up and going to sleep with loved ones, and the long, boring hours in between. Life is to be found here.
I was born in a generation where women could have everything – or so we were led to believe. My parents had the resources to educate me and give me unforetold opportunities in the big world, to make my name and be ‘famous’.
But my mother had always shown me the beauty and magic of living a happy, contented life. And so I strove to be the best I can be in my career, but always with an eye on my home life. My mother reminded me constantly over the years to cherish my home and family more than any fool’s gold out there. And because I wouldn’t sacrifice, I never got to the top. I did enough to earn respect, a nice sum of money and interesting experiences. And I am content.
The one thing I never sacrificed – my family life – grew stronger and bore sweet fruits. It is the best asset I have, the largest savings account to my name and the greatest achievement in my life. My life these days is largely ordinary, but wow, what an ordinary! I love it. I love the closeness I have with my grown-up children. They are never too busy for their father and I – my second son is spending 3 weeks of his annual leave with us – because we had always given him and his siblings all the time they needed when they were growing up. And now, they are doing the same for us.
For me, the greatest achievement is that in my children’s eyes, I am extraordinary. “Mum, you are amazing, and I love you,” is the best accolade to me, the sweetest words to my ears, and I want that on my tombstone. I know there won’t be many people coming to my funeral to tell my children what a great professional I had been, but the loving arms of my children around me more than compensates being ordinary.
Photo: my daughters and my niece foraging for berries in our hometown in autumn. An ordinary day in an ordinary town.