For most of my life, I was certain I’d have shit figured out by the time I reached my 50s. The older generations always appeared to have their shit together in my eyes. Now I realize that they were either great actors and wanted to protect us younger folk from the realities of life, or I was just extremely naïve. It was probably both.
What am I doing in my 50s without the slightest idea about what I want to do when I grow up, who I want to be, or where I want to live? This can’t be normal. Oh, but it is, the wiser, less naïve version of myself responds.
I’ve long felt that my father, in his final years, felt disappointed with how his life turned out. There was a look in his eyes that I felt I could read. He was thinking, “This is it? This is all I will ever be? All I will ever accomplish?” I think, in many ways, he was heartbroken. My father was an academic. He was a professor of kinetic chemistry. He loved his job and he loved his students. He also loved research, something he wasn’t able to do much of once he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he spent some 30 years of his academic career. My father knew his own potential. It was thwarted and he knew it.
In some ways I find myself with similar thoughts about my own life. This is it? This is all I will ever accomplish? All I will ever be? I know I have accomplished some things in life. I realize that I have lived a rich life, full of adventure, love, loss and achievement. I know that. But there’s a weird feeling residing inside of me. I’m conflicted. I want to be more. I want to do more. At the same time, I’m tired. I just want to settle down and get out of the way of other humans. I’m tired of being rebellious and wanting to change the world. And I’m upset that I don’t have the energy anymore to be rebellious and want to change the world.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think: What on EARTH am I doing in Leeds of all places? I know how I got here. I don’t regret the decisions that brought me here. But what am I still doing here?
But then if I think: Where else would you rather be? I honestly can’t think of anywhere better to be.
Part of me wants to go back to that almost fearless person who goes out into the world and does amazing things and conspires with amazing people. But another part of me wants to be a hermit who lives her final years as far away from humans as she can possibly get, in safety and peace of mind.
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t stopped living life at all. Even during the year of the pandemic, my husband and I managed a 12-day trek across England on foot. We stayed local. We stayed safe. We only went on our adventure when it was legal and facilities were open in the summer of 2020.
So it’s not that I’m worried I’ll never have an adventure again or that I’ll never travel again. I think I’m worried that I’ll not want to. I think I’m worried that I’m losing a part of myself.
Which brings me to the question: Who do I want to be? The hermit or the world traveller? I sort of want to be both. Who do I want to be? An accomplished journalist or a journalist who just gets by.
Oooh. That hit a nerve when I wrote that. I want to be more accomplished at what I do. But I really don’t want to put in the time and effort needed to get there. I don’t want to give up my quiet routines and to add more stress where it isn’t really needed or welcome.
Well then, where do you want to live? Egypt has traumatized me. It really has. I sometimes feel very angry that my father sent me to live in Egypt when I was younger. It was his home, not mine. Why did his home have to be mine? I wasn’t angry back then. When I first arrived to Egypt to go to university, I felt at home for the first time in my life. But that was largely because my father made sure I never felt at home in the United States and that Egypt was the only place to be. I was happy in Egypt. I never wanted to live anywhere else until a year or two after the 2011 revolution. It was when the Muslim Brotherhood took over and the Egyptian parliament was full of Islamic conservatives that I started to feel that I couldn’t bear to live in a country where, when we finally have democracy, this was what we got. And now that we don’t have democracy, now that the Islamists are not in charge, I don’t want to live in the country even more. Egypt in my mind feels like a huge prison. A huge oppressor. I feel like I need to be free of her. But I never will be. My children are there. And so I’m tied to that country forever.
In some ways, I feel like I’ve made a home for myself in England. But in other ways I’ll always be an outsider here. I only ever began to feel at home here when I found other Egyptians I could be friendly with. We have similar struggles. We understand each other. We yearn for some of the same things. We’re lost in similar ways. We have similar values and dreams. We have things in common. My life and thoughts have felt so far and different from the Brits I have met that I have never felt that I have had a meaningful conversation with anyone. I need meaningful conversations.
At the same time, I feel irrelevant here in the UK. I was someone when I lived in Egypt. Sometimes people would even stop me on the street and ask if I was Nadia El-Awady. If that’s never happened to you, it should. It’s a wonderful feeling to be acknowledged in a good way, and to be told that something you’ve done made a difference in some way to someone else. Enough shit happens in life to make us feel bad about ourselves. It’s really nice when a complete stranger makes you think that maybe you ain’t so bad after all. At least not all of the time.
Here in the UK, I’m literally no one. I’ve always felt acknowledged in Egypt. Here in the UK, I feel invisible.
Still, it’s taken ten years, but I’m starting to feel settled and safe here in the UK. I have my routines. I can get out and about for my walks, runs, and bike rides even when there is a full-blown pandemic hitting the world. There is space. There is fresh air. There is a strong healthcare system. People are nice. They don’t stuff their noses into your personal business. If I keep working and if I keep paying my taxes, I should be able to retire one day and receive a pension that I could probably live on. I’ll never be rich. But I’ll likely always manage to have a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I don’t have that kind of security in Egypt.
And that’s why I can’t bear the thought of uprooting myself and going to live somewhere else in the world. I’ve often thought it might be nice to live in Spain somewhere on the sea. I love Spain. But I truly don’t have any energy left to start all over again. I just can’t. I don’t want to spend another ten years of my life figuring another country out and trying to find other close-by Egyptians so I don’t feel lost.
I want change but I don’t want it. I want to move but I can’t bear the thought. I want to achieve more but I don’t have the energy for it. I want to be a hermit but I miss people and feeling seen.
What the fuck? What the actual fuck? Does this mean we just never figure shit out? Is it just me? Do some people have shit figured out and I’m the type that’s bound to feel lost and confused in her later years? Is it just circumstance that has brought me to this weird place in life?
Are you over 50 and have stuff figured out? If you are and do, can you tell me how you got there, please?