Today is my birthday.
I’m now thirty five. It’s a big number, but really, inconsequential to me at this time. Looking back, when I was small, my physical resistance to fruit and vegetables had me thinking that I’d be dead by 21. Parents, or others, probably tried to scare me into eating fruits with such consequences – citing a lack of vitamins and healthy stuff as the cause of my future rapid decline. But I didn’t care. Death was not a worry back then. And 21 seemed far, far away.
And now I sit bang in the middle of my 30s – five years after a critical formational period (my 20s), and five years before that magical age of maturity (40). And I don’t feel young, nor do I feel old. Truth be told, age really hasn’t made much difference to me at all for quite a while.
Psychologically, at least.
Physically, I’ve seen the results of a slowing metabolism – with little will to reverse or even fight the outward consequences.
In terms of maturity, I’ve felt incremental gains over the last few years. Wisdom has, I hope, come in bits and pieces, and I’m no longer as selfish, judgemental, and narrow-minded as I once was. But there are still plenty of character flaws, and much work to still be done as constant refinements to a self that will never be perfect….but still needs to strive to improve all the time.
As for where I am in life, I’ve never been one to set time-related targets…or indeed, targets at all. Call me unambitious, fearful of the future, or just plain lazy – but I don’t do benchmarks. I don’t do 5 or 10 year plans. And maybe that’s why I haven’t really achieved much in the worldly sense.
I sometimes come across the social media profiles of those I went to school with. Guys that have risen to the top of their fields – executives, managers, prominent positions – climbing that corporate ladder; finding success. Even though, back in junior school, I did better than most of them academically, all of that counts for nothing – because ambition, opportunity, and most of all hard work, gets people to ascend and achieve such accomplishments.
And good for them.
But I’ve never had career ambitions. I’ve never been motivated by wealth or material success, because – alhamdullilah – I come from a stable background, where poverty was never a threat (at least for the vast majority of my life). But I’ve also never been motivated by wanting to change the world, or be some other kind of large-scale transformative force. I’ve always been pretty self-focussed, though that has changed tremendously over the last decade – with marriage and then children completely re-orienting my natural tendency to think of myself first (though I still do…just less nowadays).
Do I feel like a failure? Like a mediocre, average person?
If I dwell on things, perhaps. But my wife shared some highly encouraging insights with me a few weeks back, as we talked about where we are in life, and where we’ve come from. And I realised that I should never compare myself to others, because we all have different paths. Some have excelled in the worldly sense, others spiritually, and still others seem to have hit the jackpot by finding great balance between both sides…yet they have all had their own struggles, and they still do have their own struggles. And neither I, nor anyone else looking from the outside, know the challenges they battle with every single day. We only see the outside – the appearance of success and contentment. But in their hearts, and in their minds, each of them – every human – has battles that rage.
And in the end, the only measure of success is where you stand in the eyes of your Lord. A measure which none of us can gauge – because it’s an attribute unseen to our earthly eyes.
I also need to step back and look at the bigger picture, too. How I see myself now, how I feel, and what I think I have and haven’t achieved – all of that is not isolated and confined to this moment in time. Ten years from now, where will I be? These little challenges now – will they contribute towards positive character development, and lessons learned? Or will they be marks of failing – regret – which would still be positive, because we learn more from the bad times and mistakes than we do from the good times.
It reminds me of the hadith:
“Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affair is good and this is not for no one except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him he is patient and that is good for him” (Saheeh Muslim #2999)
So in all of this ramble thus far, perhaps I’ve come across as melancholy and disappointed at my station in life. But that’s not at all the case. I guess I just express myself in more negative terms than positives – because I’m not a naturally optimistic person.
But in all honesty, aside from the irritations of life and challenges I am not fighting hard enough, I really feel quite content with where I am. Alhamdullilah.
That said, I hope that the coming years will bring an accelerated pace of development and goodness, because by the time I hit 40 – if I make it that far – I hope I’ll be contributing much more to the world, and doing a lot better in all the areas that I aspire to.
That is all. For now…