This is a personal post; if you decide to comment, don’t be a douche.
I’m in my early 40s. I have a lovely family and professional “success.” I admit I constantly worry that I will run out of funding and that everyone else is somehow better at grant writing than me, and this is the main reason why I don’t feel like the professional success sans quotation marks that I objectively probably am. I could be striving for more professional recognition and indeed I do, but at this point recognition is quite amorphous: does becoming a fellow of the relevant professional societies (or maybe a member of the National Academies?) constitute further success? I suppose it does, but I can’t say I really care much about any of these. The fellowships should be feasible in principle, some perhaps even very soon; I just need to bother people to nominate me.
Yet I am still hungry, personally and professionally, and I need to direct that hunger in a way that’s neither destructive nor seems (to me) pointless or self-indulgent. For instance, I set some health and fitness goals and am working hard toward them. And maybe I will sign up for some races and whatnot, and while this is all fun and good for me, these goals are both ephemeral and unremarkable, achievable and achieved by many, and often so. What makes them superficial (to me) is that they don’t feed this hunger deep inside; they are simply distractions.
Maybe I need to learn to play an instrument, or learn a new language, or finally find some time to master the graphic tools needed to make digital comics? All valuable, but ultimately they, too, are distractions. Distractions from what? I don’t know. Midlife, I suppose. I know a number of people my age who are content to coast in whatever comfortable state they currently are until they retire or die. And there is nothing wrong with comfort, especially if you’ve spent much of your life being uncomfortable. I suppose I should be ashamed of my overall privilege that’s leading me to whine within the whole midlife crisis framework when what I should be instead is grateful for my good fortune.
The thing is, I am as hungry as I was when I was 20. I want more and bigger and different, of everything. There is so much to do, and experience, and learn.
But I am not alone, I have dependents. I feel guilty that all this energy that’s directed at me and away from them is shortchanging them, while on the other hand it’s probably a good thing that I am not smothering them too much. Besides, directing more energy towards cooking or cleaning a) fuckin’ sucks and b) is not really going to help quench whatever is burning deep down, unless you plan on me cooking and cleaning all day every day until I drop.
If you read things on the web, all this can apparently be attributed to… *drumroll*
You guessed it — my ovaries! They are supposedly realizing that their egg-popping days are numbered and are freaking out about it. It’s funny how, for women, there can be no thought or feeling, especially one hinting at discontent, that does not allegedly have a source in the reproductive system. Seriously, since my ovaries seem to be doing all the thinking, maybe they should be nominated for that professional society fellowship.
I should have been crazier in my late teens and early 20s (although I have had a fairly nonlinear trajectory by most supernerd/academic standards), but I was too busy being crazy about one particular boy and too insecure about my professional abilities to let my freak flag fly.
Young women out there, especially scholarly types, please make good use of your youth. I promise that you are way cooler in every way imaginable than you give yourself credit for. Let your inner nerdy vixen out to play; party with wild abandon.