Why did it take me until I’m 50-something to admit I’m nothing special?
I HAD A very dull – and slightly unpleasant – epiphany on the road to Lidl yesterday.
I finally conceded that I was just an ordinary guy. A nobody, in fact.
I’d just bought stuff to top up the Ocado delivery – sausages, detergent wipes, a small pack of rocket.
I self-check-out-ed and walked home the way I always walk: past the library, up the slope and the alley behind the secondary school.
There was a lake-like puddle near the end of our road and I scurried past, so as not to get marinated by the passing cars.
And thought: “I’m so ordinary.”
I wonder: has this flash of insight ever happened to you (assuming you, too, are ordinary), or did you always know?
Please tell me that it’s not just me that’s been walking around for 50-something years, doing painfully ordinary things – but still believing, deep down, that they were somehow special?
When I said that it was a dull sort of epiphany, what I mean is that the realisation I’m not different has been brewing for a long time, and so wasn’t really a surprise.
The seeds were planted long ago, perhaps at university, when a girl I’d just split up with told me she didn’t think I would become a film director, after all. And she was right: I’m no film director.
But, still, I persisted in thinking that I was somehow special. What was that about? Arrogance? Perfectionism? Wanting to please my parents?
Or is it just something about the human experience that makes every individual go around thinking that their life is somehow precious and rich in ways that others can never comprehend?
In middle age, even someone as slow on the uptake as me eventually accepts their early dreams won’t happen”
Partly, it’s the sheer press of time that’s made me realise: in middle age, even someone as slow on the uptake as me eventually accepts that they are slowly dying, and that their early dreams won’t happen in the time they have left.
A therapist who used to work with me said that, by the time she was 50, she’d become almost invisible to people – especially men – and that, if you could accept the situation, the sense of anonymity was very freeing.
Certainly, I wouldn’t rush back to the time that I was young and (comparatively) beautiful. Even watching a teen drama like Sex Education nowadays feels quite painful, because I just don’t feel comfortable with with all that raw need and desire.
But more positively, I think my epiphany is also the result of the good work I’ve been doing on my mental health.
I’ve been trying to be more self-accepting, and know that I don’t have to be perfect (and in fact that it’s good and natural not to be perfect). Perfect people are freaks…
I had a swift and bitter lesson in this last truth the other week, when me, my wife and our friends had our egos roughed up by a gang of models at a Brazilian restaurant Up West.
We’d been on the lash, so I was starving and didn’t notice the unusually good-looking guys on the table opposite, until another ornament sat down with a girl in her late teens who was a ringer for Mariel Hemingway.
It’s weird that, even though models don’t eat, their mouths often appear wide enough to fit an average toddler in sideways”
Soon, Mariel and her Beau were joined by three tall, leggy girls with humungous hair and wide, perfect smiles (it’s weird that, even though models don’t eat, their mouths often appear wide enough to fit an average toddler in sideways).
Then came two more shimmering visions, and yet another two, in such a range of ethnicities that a mocking Deus Ex Machina seemed to be unfurling a kind of real-life, global beauty swatch expressly to belittle us.
We sat there for a bit, contemplating our own stinking decrepitude, then paid our bill and slunk into the night…
But tough though the lesson was, it was really just another variant of the truths we all start to learn about ourselves as we grow older…
Academically, there is always someone cleverer; romantically, there is always someone more attractive; artistically, there is always someone more talented.
Which is not to say that I can’t still have ambitions in the midst of my midlife crisis. To me, learning how to set up a blog was proof that I’m not dead yet, just as changing career in my 50s is quite the mountain to scale. But I’m still trying.
What I’m also doing now is leaving behind the unrealistic expectations that I once burdened myself with.
My parents couldn’t define to me what success was, and so merely expected me to do well at everything I tried, which meant that I usually felt a failure.
Maybe that’s why I was drawn to doomed heroes in my youth: like AC/DC singer Bon Scott, who was handsome, tough, rebellious, with a girl on each arm… but died of an overdose, leaving us to wonder what might have been.
“That’s it! That’s it”
Then, when I grew up (a bit), there was ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, the high school basketball hero in the John Updike novels, who struggles for decades with the fact that he is nothing special as an adult.
In one great scene, he plays golf with a priest who is nagging him to return to his abandoned wife and child, while Rabbit tries to explain why his life is so unsatisfactory.
Annoyed, the priest snaps: what is it you want?
And Rabbit, who’s playing a terrible round, tees up the ball on the last hole and strikes it pure and perfect:
“It recedes along a line straight as a ruler-edge… ‘That’s it!’ he cries… ‘That’s it.’”
And just because I had my Lidl epiphany this week, even though I’ve accepted that I’m an ordinary bloke, it doesn’t mean I can’t still have more ‘That’s It!’ moments of my own.