Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Sometimes Being Tired Just Means You Should Go To Bed Earlier

I spent a Saturday walking around Amsterdam recently with an old university friend. We're within months of the same age and from very similar backgrounds. We tend to experience the similar things at similar times. Right now, we're experiencing one of the many things they don't tell you about Being A Man: staring at the last ten years of your working life and wondering what the heck you want to do with it, now it's clear you don't have a career left. I have a job, a paid-off mortgage, am terminally single and my pension is worth a damn. He's been a freelance technical writer and translator for a long while, has a mortgage and a wonderful partner and his pension is probably better than mine, but not so he can travel round the world on it. He's thinking in terms of living maybe twenty years after retirement, I'm thinking of checking out pretty much when I can't earn any more. Which looks like a lot of differences, but it's just economics.

People only ask themselves what they want to do when they don't know. But you can't answer that question by making lists of alternatives and evaluating them – if one of them was what you wanted to do, you wouldn't bother evaluating the others – so whatever you choose from that list is emotionally random even if it has good numbers. Knowing what you want to do is like being in love: if you have to ask, you don't and you aren't. When all those life- and career-planning books tell you to work out what you want, you're doing all the heavy lifting for them. What we really want to know is how to live when we don't have any clear signals.

And yet, this feels different from all those other moments when I asked myself what I wanted out of life. For one thing, I'm not asking that question. I'm asking why I'm not upset by the fact that there's no-one in my bed. I'm asking why I'm not going to see movies that a few months ago I would have gone to see, or why I'm just taking sandwiches back to the office instead of going out into Soho. I'm asking why I'm tired and waking up early. I'm assuming that I must be in some sort of state of shut-down to be not feeling those things. But what if this is what it feels like to be absorbed or at least occupied by your work? Not something I would know.

There is one more clue in my case. Remember the bit where I'm an ACoA with co-dependency and drink and addiction issues? We tend to sabotage ourselves. Just when we get near to doing something we want to do, that might be beneficial or move us along in the world, we distract ourselves with something else, mess up, or in some other way lose the chance. I maybe doing that. If I knew which of my projects I'm actually succeeding with. The day job? I'm not so sure there. My work? I think my latest story has potential. I'm still in the West End. I could try again to do what I abandoned last time because the budget threatened to run out of control. I should suspect self-sabotage rather than anything profound and just let whatever it is play itself out.

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