Today I turn 64. In many ways I have come full circle: I feel closer to the not-quite-2 year-old in the first picture above than I have ever felt since. I have been unimaginably blessed — by the fortune of my birth, by the people and events and opportunities that have come into my life at just the right moment, and by my good health.
I have been tracking my fitness, my weight, my overall health, and my level of happiness for over 40 years, since about the time of the third picture above. I’ve always loved collecting and playing with statistics (the mathematical mind’s way of patterning, I suppose), and since I began running 10k/week seriously in the early 1970s I guess I’ve just kept at it. You can ‘age-adjust’ your running performance using ‘WMA’ tables (stands for World Masters Athletics, the group that compiles this data), which tell me that over the past 40 years my speeds for 5k and 10k runs have varied between a low of 42% (while recovering from colitis in 2006) and a high of 60% (which I’ve achieved often, on and off over the years) of the speed of the world record holder for my age.
That may not sound spectacular, but it puts me in the top third of people my age doing regular competitive running. Metabolically I’ve always been a sprinter, and have always been able to run competitive-level speeds over 100m and 200m, so I’m quite content to stay at 50% or more of age-adjusted world record speed over long distances. When I fall below that, I know I’m unwell. Yesterday my WMA score for the 10k was 58%.
When I think back on my life so far, there have been 5 major turning points:
- 1957: Entering the public school system as a young child. My life went from idyllic, believing that everyone was always honest, kind, generous, appreciative and gentle, to shocked at the inexplicable and hurtful behaviour of my peers and most of the adults in the education system. I retreated inside my head and became a stressed, depressed, shy loner for a long time.
- 1969: My year of unschooling, as I’ve written before, was transformative. I learned how to learn, learned much about myself, and came out of my shell and began to build loving relationships for the first time in my life. It was an incredible emotional roller coaster ride. My love was so intense and so idealistic that Joanne nicknamed me “the devil”. I went overboard, going from painfully shy to annoyingly arrogant. I’d been emotionally closed down for so long that I remained insensitive to others’ emotions.
- 1980: When I met my (now-ex) wife. The 1970s were a blur, full of anger at “the system” (this was when I became a radical environmentalist), with periods of bliss and periods of dark depression. Anita pulled me out of a suicidal state at the end of that tumultuous decade, and for the next 15 years I devoted myself to helping provide a comfortable home for us and her two amazing children. I owe her my life.
- 2003: The year I started How to Save the World. The kids were grown, I had been “kicked upstairs” by my employer from helping entrepreneurs (the work I most enjoyed) to work as a Chief Knowledge Officer, and disagreed utterly with my (American) boss on everything I thought we should be doing. My blog helped me formulate my thinking on entrepreneurship, innovation, complexity, depression, human nature and our culture and many other subjects. It helped me rediscover my passion for environmentalism. It helped me figure out how to cope with ulcerative colitis, the incurable chronic disease I was diagnosed with in 2006, and it was my blog that got me the less stressful jobs I worked at for the final four years of my working life. It found me the publisher for my book. And after Anita and I mutually agreed to separate in December 2007, it found me new relationships.
- 2010: In January 2010 I finally retired from paid work (since my pension kicked in), finalized my separation agreement (it had taken over two years for us to sell our house), moved to Bowen Island (from Ontario), and buried my father. Living alone for the first time in 30 years. Lots of change, but mostly the culmination of events that had been in the works for the previous two years. Since then I’ve been shuttling back and forth between Bowen and the mainland homes of the two women I love. They are brilliant, astonishing, inspiring, delightful, and have taught me so much (only my beloved Chelsea taught me more). I am so blessed.
And here I am, in 2015, feeling on the edge of a sixth great turning in my life. I have no idea what it’s about, just an intuition. I don’t expect my personal relationships to change, nor do I expect any of the kind of life-changing events I experienced in 2010. The change, this time, is likely to be an inner one. I thought it would be a shift to a state of greater equanimity, calmness and reflection, that would make me more useful to the world than I fear I have been so far, and more personally content.
But I’m not so sure. The most joyful times of my life have not been the most contented, calm or peaceful. I’m most alive when I’m on the edge, as much as that state terrifies me. I do know that whatever happens next will be what was inevitable, and totally beyond my control. I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been, so I think I’m ready. Bring it on, world.
The title of this post comes from my soul song, Neil Young’s Will to Love.