Sometimes it can feel difficult to make your voice heard, to have an impact, to feel like you’re making a difference to the people and the world around you.
You can feel lost, overwhelmed and a little powerless as the millions of people around you busily go about their daily lives, politicians bluster about things that seem important but remote, and the media constantly reminds us how bleak the outlook for everything is.
I was recently on a flight from Melbourne to Auckland, watching the movie Step Up 4 (surprisingly good), and in a small but powerful cameo, contemporary dance choreographer Mia Michaels said to one of the main characters: ‘Emily you are being blown like a leaf around this dance studio – take control.’
Wise words, and it is important to try and take some control of some of the key pillars of your life – it may not be possible to control everything, but even the process of beginning to take control of those things that you can will be an empowering first step.
This is what I’m telling myself anyway.
Turning 40 was a time of real change for me – I found myself single for the first time in many years, and I took a voluntary redundancy from a company where I had worked for ten years.
None of those were necessarily negative developments in my life, but it definitely felt as if some of the major things that used to be stable and constant were now no longer quite so certain.
The job thing was interesting. Having worked in an in-house communications role for a large international bank for over ten years, they decided to down-size their operations in London and were offering voluntary severance. I was ready for a new challenge and they needed to reduce head-count, so it was a win-win situation.
Being single was slightly more complicated. When I was younger I struggled a bit with what a successful gay relationship would look like, if I’m honest I’m probably still struggling with that. What’s different now is that I’m feeling a bit more self-content and not worried so much about not being in a relationship, but it’s hard to escape that background concern about what happens as you get older – the fear of growing old alone.
It’s not difficult to accept that turning 40 is the point where you really start to question what you’re doing, where you’re going. Maybe it’s a bit more real because you have a lot of experience of life behind you. Here’s my five step plan to help me cope with my mid-life crisis. I’m making no assurances that it will be right for anyone else, but take from it what you will.
Step 1: Work
I’ve set up my own company, I’m working on a number of freelance and contract projects and I feel in control – nervous, excited and challenged by not having a comfortable permanent employer, but I feel accountable and in control.
Step 2: Relationship
The genius of location-based apps such as Grindr is that these days it seems easier than ever before to meet guys – guys that want to have sex.
Inevitably there will be good dates and bad dates – some guys you really like but they never call you again; some guys that you have a few dates and a bit of fun with; and some guys that you never want to see again. The good thing about dating (apart from getting some regular sex) is that it does make you realise that there are plenty of guys out there – finding a boyfriend isn’t actually that difficult. Finding the right boyfriend though continues to be a numbers game.
Step 3: Health
I’m getting full health screenings through Preventicum – a specialist health service. Every two years they do a full test and scan of everything. The earlier that any problem is detected, the more chance you have of being able to treat it effectively and recover.
I’m also spending a lot of time, energy, and money in the gym – I have a personal trainer, I follow a fairly rigid diet, I take a lot of supplements.
I feel good and I’m happy with how I look.
Step 4: Family
My family are a bit spread out so contact can be a bit sporadic. I recently spent five days with my parents who live in the town of Echuca in South Eastern Australia.
My mother is concerned that none of her children live close enough to visit regularly (my younger brother is the closest – three hours away in Melbourne; my sister is in Perth – a four hour flight; and I’m in London – the other side of the world).
I tried to explain that this was actually a credit to them both – that they had given us the confidence and sense of empowerment to make our own way in the world, secure that we had the love and support of our parents.
My mother didn’t see it like that.
‘I want you home for Sunday lunch – not half-way around the world!’ she declared.
Step 5: Community
Possibly the most intangible of the pillars of your life, ‘community’ is important in the sense that you need to feel some sense of engagement or connection with the world around you.
That doesn’t necessarily mean saying ‘good morning’ to all of your neighbors, or volunteering at the local cat shelter, but it’s important to find something that’s meaningful for you – that you can commit to, invest in, and feel part of.
I’ve become a bit obsessed with gay sports. It started with a tentative attempt to play water polo with London’s gay water polo team. I quickly realised that I’m not much good at water polo but I loved being part of a team, hanging out with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, feeling a real sense of camaraderie.
I am in no way kidding myself that 40 is the new 30. There is no denying that I am officially 40. But it is not the end of the world – far from it, in many ways it feels like it’s the beginning.