Rodin’s Le Penseur. Image from the US National Gallery of Art
When I set about thinking about the year of being forty, it seemed a no-brainer that it would be centred around delving deeper. The premise was that as the worst kind of failure is one of depth, actively looking to ensure I had depth in all critical aspects of my life was key as I came into my decade of being forty something. As to why I think failures of depth are the most critical, I think that both the one who fails and the one who is failed are left with the lingering after taste of what might have been. For one, the chance of a lifetime disappears before it even begins. For the other the time and energy expended/ invested ends up being for nothing. Both face the opportunity costs, lost irretrievably. For the year of being forty-one, rebuild better was the key, given COVID and how it had intervened specifically in my life with regards to a new job.
From the vantage point of the present looking back, it seems clear that delving deeper, and rebuilding better took on lives of their own, evolving into a full blown rethink, with no facet of life – from faith, through family and friendships through to work – being exempt from this interrogation. There is a sense in which rethinking follows naturally from delving deeper. For when done right, delving deeper can expose the scaffolding on which our beliefs and behaviours are hung, laying bare the inconsistencies and incongruities there. If intellectual honesty and/or integrity are worth anything to us, we cannot ignore those, hence we rethink. Truly rebuilding on the other hand requires firm and sure foundations, which is how all three themes are linked.
Of all the things that have been touched so far by my rethinking, I get the sense that faith and work are the most likely to be significantly impacted in the near term. I have always considered myself a prodigal not least because my notions of identity – both spiritual and familial – are conflicted. What has changed in that regard is I think I am finally at a place where I am comfortable calling myself a lapsed Pentecostal. I am by no means ready – or willing – to chuck it all out; the things that tether me to that space still maintain their grip, however tenuous they may be. I have however found that paring faith down to the essentials has led me to a framework of a three legged stool of sorts: right beliefs, right practice and right passions, an articulation I am grateful to Preston Sprinkle for.
With work, the tensions are many. On the one hand there is the being an empiricist vs being a theorist, or to slightly rephrase it, being a generalist or a specialist. Moons ago I would have sworn being a specialist was the be all and end all, a nod perhaps to the niche specialty which has fed me all these years. I am however finding that there is a limit to how far an arcane subject, or esoteric knowledge, can take you in the real world. And what use is knowledge if it doesn’t translate into the real world? There is also the small matter of where my future direction lies. There is a ceiling to being a specialist, I feel with more scope for growth in being a generalist. To future-proof my career therefore, it seems to me that broadening rather than deepening is the way to go. Being out here was great for the first year, with all the trappings of the expat life. Now that that is behind me now, the reality of the question of direction now hits home. Is my future inextricably linked to oil? Or are any of the nascent interests grabbing my attention the future for me? I think I would like to have the freedom to work without borders. That and the cachet of the world of data are an attraction that grows increasingly stronger, if I can find a way to make my past years of experience useful in that domain.
L and S are a consideration that weighs heavy on my mind in this regard. The days when I was free as a bird to pack up sticks and take the risk of beginning again are gone I think. Family has its responsibilities and rewards which one cannot take lightly. Just how much that affects the calculus of the future still seems unclear, or perhaps still evolving, the final shape or form unknown at the moment.
Plenty to mull over then, with potentially wide-ranging consequences to decisions and directions. Bring on the year of rethinking. It feels like this will be some interesting ride around the sun!