The whole quote by Anatole France is: “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another”. It is a perfect description of how I feel right now. With every change in our lives, we have to relearn to live and be ourselves.
Leaving home to go to university, moving to another country, moving in with someone, getting separated, having a child, starting a business… These are all changes that force us to question our habits and rethink how we structure our lives, our space, ourselves.
It sounds easy enough to do, especially for someone who is as used to change as I am. I have not only been used to it, but have sought it and caused it since I was fifteen years old. And yet, I find that over the last few years, my ability to adapt to change is not what it used to be. When I was younger, change was often scary, but also exciting.
Changing schools at age fifteen, going off to university and sharing an apartment with complete strangers in a foreign land at seventeen, those first big deliberate changes in my life may have been a bit hard because I was still figuring out who I was. At the time, I found that all our routines and customs are a part of how we perceive ourselves in relation to others, whether in comparison or in opposition. At first, we think these habits are our own, as they helped shape who we are. So giving some of them up to better coexist with others is not easy, especially when you are young, stubborn and rebellious as I was. But as time goes by, you realise that some of these habits are not an integral part of who you are. You are just mimicking what you observed while growing up. You learned them from your family, your social circle, your fellow countrymen, and never bothered to question them. With age, as you begin to piece together the puzzle of your very own identity, you find that there is more room for change in your habits than you thought.
The years pass and you start being comfortable with your strong adaptable – yet authentic – self. And then, unexpectedly, this trend is reversed. At least for me. The habits, schedules, structure I’ve come to live by, through experimentation and change, have been my own. But gradually, I find that when one of the foundations of the life I’ve built for myself shifts, or worse, disappears, all that beautiful adaptability I pride myself on has begun to crumble. Reinventing myself was easy enough when I was young. Past the age of thirty, it started getting trickier. And now, past the big 4-0, every substantial change feels like an earthquake. Why is that? Do we stiffen with age, like our bodies do? Do we become rigid, judgmental, uncompromising? I doubt it, even though I sometimes catch myself being far less tolerant than I was fifteen years ago. Rather, I’m coming to realise that the tipping point comes when you feel that your life should be built by now. It has to do with expectations: your own and society’s. As long as you perceive yourself as having to build your career, your family, your life, it is fine to test, change, take risks. Because you know you are moving towards a goal, namely the fulfilment of your life’s purpose. But once you have your family and you’ve found a home you love, once you’ve built a career for yourself, every structural change in your life starts to feel like destroying what you’ve built rather than building something new.
When you’ve been on the roller-coaster of life’s trials and errors enough times, the expected smooth and straight train ride of mid-life is very appealing. Some manage to stay on that track for a very long time. I haven’t. Perhaps it’s my restless, strong-willed, intense nature that makes it impossible to compromise what I believe to be essential. Whatever the reason may be, the structure I’ve built for myself is once again shaken. And I find this very unsettling. It’s scary, but not the exciting kind of scary I used to know. It’s an unpleasant sort of scary this time around. My life experience has taught me that I will undoubtedly adapt to these changes once again, but this time around I am questioning the vast campaigns aiming to convince us that we should ‘seek change’ and ‘be our authentic selves’. Regardless of the price you have to pay for that. Perhaps there is, after all, some merit in wanting to enjoy security – with all its compromises – rather than this glorified ‘authenticity’ past mid-life. Perhaps.
Be that as it may, considering the life I’ve led and the way my experiences have shaped me, that is not my path. I have always caused or welcomed change when something wasn’t working in my life. As that is still the case, after the recent changes I’ve brought on in my life, I will have to rethink myself again… after I’m done mourning my former self.
(Title: quote by Anatole France taken from “The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard”)