Recently, I read about millennials finishing college, finding a job, closing in on 30 and getting serious about their life. And they are struck with all sorts of realities: being single means being lonely. Being married means sacrificing. Having children means saying goodbye to whatever life you thought you had. Work is a grind. Life isn’t fair. And friends drift away, seldom to be replaced by new friends. And nostalgia doesn’t seem so stupid after all. (The creators of How I Met Your Mother knew this — and the show lasted nine seasons.)
Turning 30 is big. To me, though, it’s just the end of Act I.
It’s what I’ve come to think about life, and how things go. Let’s say life is like a play, and if a person is lucky enough to get their three score and ten, and maybe a little more, it’s easy to see how it can be broken into three acts.
Everyone’s life is unique, so there are no hard-and-fast rules to this. Speaking for myself, my first act ended at 31. It was the last year I was in New York, working for a newspaper, unhappy with my life, unable to shout down or ignore the voice inside me saying “Go out and see the world, it’s your last chance!”
I had been lucky in the seeing the world bit: Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic, North Sea, eight countries in a six month cruise — and then I was ordered to Asia.
It was heaven for someone who knew in his bones that he wanted to write. Not knowing what, or how, didn’t seem to matter. Working as a journalist seemed to be a good way to get my feet wet. So from traveling to journalism school to newspaper work — and all I could think of was how I missed traveling.
Enter Act II.
I went to Japan, and my life changed in ways I could not image ways unimaginable. Simply put, I found myself in Tokyo, working as a copy editor, teaching conversation English, editing English language textbooks, falling in love, and in the blink of an eye, becoming a husband and father. Totally unprepared, mentally, emotionally, financially. One thing I knew was as big a schmuck as I probably was, what I’d be graded on for the rest of my life was ‘was he a good father?’ I spent the next 20-plus years trying to live up to that. My jobs in the newspaper industry really didn’t amount to much because deep down the guy who wanted to write novels battled the guy who was editing newspapers and moonlighting for extra cash and taking jobs every few years to be closer to his son. It was all I could do to muster what little brainpower I had to get through the day. But, time passes, kids graduate high school, then college, and the angst of raising children becomes a memory. Now son and father are launched into the world. He’s beginning his own Act I.
For me, it’s time for Act III. And like the storytelling gurus suggest, there are things from Act I and Act II that are the key to Act III — admitting that I’d rather write fiction than work in the news business, admitting that back-to-back job loses that resulted in an anxious move to a new town really did turn out well, after all. Realizing surviving long-ago health issues that became to big too ignore will put one in a grateful frame of mind. Coming out the other side of those episodes whole and better helped me decide that, like the old gent in Slomo said,”Do what you want to.”
I hope that everyone, in their own Act III, finds a grateful place, and do what they want to.