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COLUMN: Crossroads on the journey of life
You may be familiar with them.
A lot of my friends are there these days.
Maybe it’s our age. Forty-ish, a time when many of us wake up and ask: How did I get here?
Most have found a partner, a career, some decent digs and, in many cases, planted a seed or two.
And then. Without realizing it, life’s biggest goals have been achieved—at least the ones society pushes on us—before life is even halfway done.
Some go off the rails. Divorces, affairs, alcohol, depression—I see this in my wider circle these days. Great people, smart people, fun people. Suddenly, all muddled up.
I get it. I’ve felt some of the same zeitgeist.
Happy but unhappy. Sometimes it melds in a strange brew.
Crossroads can happen anytime, of course, not just at 40.
My last big one was post-high school, entering the adult world. That juncture of life felt overwhelming in scope—so many decisions, too many possible directions. Fear of missing out on something by choosing the wrong one. At 40, it’s different. Life is so much more entangled, with family, work, bills and community, that the scope of choices can appear forbiddingly narrow.
Pop-psych books dismiss this as pessimism. “There are no limits! You can do anything!”
But clear-eyed 40-somethings know there are others to consider should we decide to heed Frost’s advice to take the road less travelled by.
There’s a popular saying that says—more or less—the young have time but no money, the middle agers have money but no time, and the oldsters have both time and money, but then their knees give out.
It’s a maudlin view of life, but maybe there’s a lesson there. Maybe it means life will never dish up optimum circumstances for anything, so we should savour the fragments of joy that squeeze in the margins of work, struggles and life’s aches and pains.
Most crossroads occur when we’re unclear about our sense of purpose. What’s the goal? Where am I headed? What gives my life meaning?
The temptation at these times can be strong to jump at something to shake that awful feeling that often accompanies life at the crossroads. To quote the teens whose very identity is mired in what is perhaps the longest of life’s crossroads, it can really suck. Like you’ve put on the wrong size underwear, or are saddled with a perpetual head cold.
But crossroads are good for us, too. Sometimes they are a space worth dwelling in—inhabiting for a while. Often, without knowing it, we’re saying goodbye. To an old self, to an old life.
Perhaps it’s a time to be still, be patient. After all, the new buds don’t burst into flower the day the last leaf falls.
And it may not look like it, but that “in-between” time is often filled with tremendous progress and change. Call it chemical, call it psychological. Call it nature doing its silent work of re-tooling.
If you’ve been at a crossroads—and I’d argue we all have—you understand.
And if you’re there now, take heart. What you’re doing now is important.
And if you can, honour it. Crossroads, by definition, remake us. And they’re also a brief stop on the journey.
• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.