Growing Up


The “Dragon Tree” in Brighstone, irresistible jumping, swinging and climbing platform. Reputibly a dragon which killed and ate thirty village children, turned to wood by St Tarquin of Vectis in Medieval times. Undeniably a very fine, “Grown Up” tree.

It’s telling that the phrase “middle aged” is frequently used in a critical sense. I think this says a lot about our culture which values the feverish energy and unblemished beauty of youth over the peace and wisdom that can only come from a life that has been lived..

The years when one is no longer young, but not yet ancient, in particular are glossed over with a veneer of distracted agitation – it’s noticeable that with our cultural terrific emphasis on youth, action and material success, middle age is either belittled or denied as we try to push the clock back, continually overstraining ourselves in unnatural effort, tying to become what we once were, or more likely what he had once hoped to be.

It’s easy to understand why midlife is often synonymous with restlessness, discontent, despair and doubt. Similar feelings in fact to the dawn of adolescence. Like any period of change the temptation is to deny or rail against, to fall into nervous breakdown, drink, love affairs or frantic fruitless overwork. It’s sad that we try to “cure” these signs of change, instead of using them to accept the change, to grow a different stage of life that may in many ways be more fruitful than previous times. Maybe youth is a closed world, that whilst beautiful at the time, we need to learn to outgrow?

By middle age, most people have attained or ceased to struggle to attain, some kind of place in the world – the huge attachment to place, people, material surroundings and accumulations is somehow less important as little by little life changes – children leave, career loses its intensity. If we’re not careful it would be easy to become attached to the outmoded model of life, living in a stone walled fortress of our own making. Maybe being open to the discomfort, the emptiness of failed ambition and disappointment is as good a springboard as any, to becoming open to  other forms and experiences. The shedding of the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulation, the shell of ego – the things that protect us from the competitive world, could be a blessing, an opportunity to be completely ourselves at last – a real liberation far more empowering than clinging on to the vision of everlasting youth.

There are certainly doors which will be shut to us when youth is left behind – maybe the chance to raise a new family, the dream of an olympic medal, being the most beautiful girl at the party or a latter day Prince Charming. Certainly this may be a time for mourning, but maybe in some ways this is a relief. For many of us we now have time at last for the creative, intellectual – or physical activities we pushed aside in the heat of the race.

It’s true that society in general doesn’t help us to interpret this part of life in this way, but I see it more and more as a time with increasing freedom to fulfil the neglected sides of myself – hopefully bringing to the process a little wisdom, courage, curiosity and wonderment gained along the way. The experience of  being “bien dans sa peau” – in English literally “well in one’s skin”seems to come more easily with age – and that, for me at least, is something worth celebrating.