I remember on the morning after my 58th birthday I read in the business press that one of the graduate trainees who used to work for me in London was now the firm’s global CEO, with an impressive office on the top floor of a skyscraper in New York. I, on the other hand, was unemployed in Sydney, wearing a dressing gown and sitting in our damp under-garage store room, about to write a book few people were ever likely to read.
It would be fair to say my most successful days were behind me.
But, call me delusional, despite this stark contrast, I genuinely believed my happiest days were ahead of me. Because I want my sixties to be the best decade of my life so far, and therefore, had been researching how to make this a reality for years.
I’ve long viewed life as having three distinct chapters or ’trimesters’. The first, up until 30 when you’re a baby, child and then evolving into an independent adult. The second is until 60 when you’re building a career and raising a family. And the third? Well, the third is when, if we are lucky, we get 30 odd summers to make the most of our time left on this earth.
I believe life teaches you how to live it – and I have come to three key conclusions as I start my seventh decade.
Firstly, I need different criteria for success in my third trimester than the ones I used in my second trimester. I will never earn as much money, run as fast or enjoy as powerful a position in society as I did when I was in my 30s, 40s and 50s. But, whilst conventional success is great, if you’re fortunate enough to have some, it’s always finite and most definitely doesn’t guarantee happiness. You can’t live your life at peak intensity forever. In your career-building, and family-rearing years it’s natural to judge yourself by how well you’re doing in reaching certain financial, fitness or career goals. But, by the time you reach 60, maybe a shift away from those metrics towards a greater focus on the quality of your relationships and the contribution you’re making to society might be an approach that would serve you better.
Secondly, I am determined to resist an understandable, imperceptible slide into an ever-narrowing of interests and friends throughout my sixties. So much so that I have set up a podcast where I interview famous people about their favourite films, books and songs. It’s called The Five Of My Life and hosting the show forces me to watch, listen, and read things – and meet people – that I never would otherwise. As a result, the wonderful truth is my circle of interests and friends is expanding, not contracting, as I age.
Thirdly, I have turned my back on the ridiculous notion that you should only try new things if you can become good at them. I allow myself to be hilariously inept at new endeavours. Drawing, chess, dancing, cooking – I am shockingly rubbish at all of them but still having enormous fun trying to learn how to do them. Precisely because I have let go of limiting the second trimester thinking that you can only do things to ‘win’, impress, or make money. Instead, I’m now doing them to express myself, have fun, make friends and contribute. Letting go of having to master or excel at a new interest means I am so much more open to trying a wide variety of new things as there is no fear of failure as I know I will fail. I welcome and embrace it as part of the fun. It’s not a competition, there’s no finish line to reach or medal to be awarded – there’s just a purposeful endeavour to be enjoyed. The cliché is true – the journey is truly both the point and the reward.
So, those are my three lessons. I would welcome your feedback on them and would love to hear your advice on how you are maximizing your third trimester. I’m not claiming to have all the answers – for myself or for other people – there’s a reason I included the word ‘Stupid’ in the title of my new 60 book. There are always new things to learn, wouldn’t it be boring if there weren’t! So please, do let me know your thoughts – smart or otherwise.
In his memoir for his sixth decade on earth, Nigel ponders ageing well, sex, parenting adult children, his parents’ passing, and the secret to his living a happy life. By turns humorous, thought-provoking, poignant and life affirming, ’Smart, Stupid and Sixty’ is a celebration of the ’Third Trimester’ as a privilege to be enjoyed rather than a sentence to be endured