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Way Back Into Self

Identifying stages of life for growth.

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Tunji Oke - Jim Kohatsu Photography
Tunji Oke - Jim Kohatsu Photography

A few weeks ago, Arianna’s newsletter “As I turn 70” arrived in my email. The piece titled “Thoughts on Turning 70” was the first one I read completely since receiving the weekly newsletters.

She discussed her recognition of and revelations about life stages and I loved her quotes and antidotes. She wrote “At 15 I set my heart on learning. At 30 I took my stand. At 40 I came to be free from doubts. At 50 I understood the decree of heaven. At 60 my ear was attuned. At 70 I followed my heart’s desire without overstepping the line.” It is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s seven stages of life from the play As You Like It.

This struck a chord, because I have yet to identify the stages of my life other than occasional nostalgic recollections coupled with a smile or a sneer. What are the stages I have gone through? And how would I realize I was in one stage or the other.

In these Pandemic days, since a lot of us are in lockdown, one of the consolatory sayings in conversation is, “if you can’t go outside, go inside.” And I did, by meditating for the first couple of weeks and on-and-off afterwards.

Reading Arianna’s piece raised concrete questions — what have I done with my life? Or have I done a great job? Not only that, my journey into self-introspection brought fears and disappointment that I had not done much of anything. I had not excelled in career, nor accumulated financial gains and my social contributions are lacking.

Still, identifying the stages of my life is an exercise I am willing to try. As we learn from one of the translations of Lao Tzu quotes, “To conquer others is to have power. To conquer yourself is to know the way.” This could be a small step in finding a way back into self. Afterall, if I cannot do a simple self-discovery how would I be able to make necessary change. So, I began.

At 15 and through the rest of my teen years, I do not remember much other than being interested in many things. This was my curiosity stage.  Unlike my classmates who focused on one subject or another that would lead them to some future career I tried to learn everything — science, engineering, history, arts, music, geography; I was exposed to knowledge living amongst learned parents, aunts and uncles.  By the time I finished secondary school, my sights were trained on leaving for America, and that dream came three years later.

Survival in my twenties was paramount. I tried to make a living by taking any job or projects that gave me a paycheck. This period was interspersed with some adventures in travel and spirituality. And it flew by.

About mid-thirties, I settled into a nurturing period raising a family. This instilled the need to be stable, to maintain steady career to better to support my family. Although I entered this stage with apprehension and lived through it with varying degree acceptance, I now recognize that it was the most rewarding accomplishments in my life.

At 58, I cannot say I have come to any revelations about this stage of my life. I am yet to label it because the story is still unfolding. However, it is emerging as my authenticity stage. I am more outspoken and open about what I want, what I want to do, and where I want to be. I feel no need force the appearance of impression. I know myself enough to recognize my mistakes and admit them instead of trying to hide them.

It is fitting that I started this piece as I tend to my father as he clung to life. This experience made me further realize the preciousness of time. I wonder whether he experienced this, to what degree and how he handled it. Maybe that was why he often recited lines from “The Seven Ages of Man” from Shakespeare play As You Like it.

I still have doubts when those thoughts creep into my moments or days: What have I done? Where do I fit in? And I am still trying to break free — free of my job, free of bills, free of anything I feel is holding me back. Maybe that will be my next stage.

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