Over lunch, a few months ago, a friend asked me what I liked to do on my birthdays. Before even thinking it through, I blurted out, “I like to be alone so I can think.” I find that I’m more honest when I don’t have much time to package my thoughts.
As my next birthday creeps around the corner, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the person I have become over the last 365 days. Am I better? Am I kinder? Have I become more focused, more inclined to achieve the goals I set for myself? If I keep going down the path I’m going, what would my life look like when I’m 70? You know, like a movie where someone going through midlife crisis is confiding in a friend, and they say something like, “I just feel like I woke up and became this person, I have no idea how I got here. I don’t recognise who I am”.
When we were growing up, our lives were divided into measurable periods. We had school terms, semesters and holidays. We had milestones: school grades, promotions, graduations to measure our progress. Assessment required no deliberate intention on our parts. But as we got older, transitioned into the workforce and into ‘adulting’, life became less clear cut. With no defined markers to see how you’re doing – as a person, as a friend, as a partner, as a parent – it is easy to avoid self-assessment and drift into complacency.
Last year, I found myself complaining a lot. I could hear myself doing it, but I couldn’t stop. I nit-picked at work; I grumbled on the drive home; I moaned about people. It was like a waterfall, everything that came out of my mouth seemed to be negative. It got so bad that two people called me out on my attitude. After hearing them out, I took some time alone to soberly consider myself. If I became more and more the person I was at that moment, who would I look like when I was 70? I didn’t like what I saw. With so much at stake, I knew I had to be more intentional about pursuing my personal development. I figured, that I had to introduce something into my life to help me catch myself before negative traits spiralled out of control. So I listened to some podcasts, read some books and drew up a chart around what I considered important aspects in my life.
The table above gives defined paradigms around which one can think about life.
I’m by no means perfect; people close to me will gladly and emphatically attest to this. I still find myself overwhelmed by my flaws. But perfection is not the goal, incremental improvement is. I can become a little more thoughtful, a little more consistent and a little more discipline. And when my 70th birthday rolls around, as unassuming as the coming one, I can look back and see that indeed I was better at 70.
Written by Ugonna Iheme