More time away camping (although not as much running as I’d like; more on that another day…) and lots of extra time to read. I’ve just finished Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, a short novel about a female High Court judge who daily considers legal questions – with their attendant moral, social and ethical complexity – affecting families in desperation. Her own life has hit an unexpected challenge in the form of her husband’s mid-life crisis, and she considers her choices, history, even the nature of the human condition, as a particular case unfolds.
As I began the book my son Sebastian asked if I was enjoying it. Ian McEwan carries significance for me: The Child In Time was the first contemporary adult fiction I read, at 12 years old – the same age as my son now. But I had to admit to him that I was finding these opening chapters somewhat depressing. Seb asked me if I was likely to have a mid-life crisis at any point? We considered what that would mean, and the impact of hitting an age or stage of life and encountering regret, missed opportunity, or disappointment.
I habitually assess my choices, beliefs, behaviours, although this assessment doesn’t always lead to improvement, or even change. We talked about the cognitive dissonance that frail humanity accommodates most of the time – the knowledge that our lifestyles contain hypocrisy and self-defeating patterns, and our weakness in letting these slip by unchallenged due to laziness, selfishness, habit…
Not crisis: challenge.
Perhaps my natural self-analysis seems to suggest living in perpetual-life crisis (rather than one which just explodes in the middle) – but I don’t think so. I can’t simultaneously tackle every element of my existence, but as I progressively examine the big rocks in the jar (marriage, parenting, career, relationships, exercise, nutrition…) I do my best to be honest. To set small, achievable targets for better living*. To understand my motivations and influences, and confront the implications of my choices.
McEwan’s novel looks with sympathy on the fear, vanity and foolishness which sometimes derails our efforts to lead meaningful lives. Sometimes I am the greatest obstacle to my own hard pursuit. I sabotage a good running programme by over-training, or allow too many late nights and distractions to hamper my body’s recovery. I suffer self doubt, indulge an internal dialogue of inadequacy or negative comparison.
My response to these cracks in the core is confrontation. I talk to my husband, to close friends, and I talk truth to myself. Eyeball it. Then bit by tiny bit, address it. A mid-life crisis may not be the worst thing that can happen to a person – I’m pretty sure a lot of runners start from there! But better yet, consider the breadth of life now, and make small sustainable changes which build your confidence and well-being. Like going for a run.
*A really helpful starting place to give you some guidelines on habit forming and tackling improvement is the brilliant James Clear’s e-newsletter. This week’s post is a summary of various articles on productivity and sustainable change, relating to some of the ideas I’ve discussed here.