‘One must change one’s tactics every ten years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.’ – Napoleon Bonaparte
I was caught up in a semi-alarmist Twitter thread the other day, which pointed out that with very few weeks left until the end of the decade, perhaps we should all invoke a time of reflection to see whether we’ve achieved any of the goals we set out with at the turn of the previous one.
It was alarming because the sudden realisation that any one of us may have spent the last ten years doing little more than following reality shows, binge watching Netflix, playing Candy Crush and eating junk is actually worthy of a wake-up call. I’m not sure I even had a ten year plan; how about you?
You may not have conquered Everest, donated a kidney or trained for a marathon (me neither), but the fact that you are still breathing and reading this tells me you have survived. That in itself is an accomplishment when the world population clocks in at 7.7 billion people, all competing for resources, including the all-important water, and oxygen. Since approximately 56 million people die every year, if you’re still alive then you’re still beating some of the odds at least (me too). Congrats; we’re winning.
That hardly seems a very high bar though.
I decided to take the challenge and review the ‘2000 & 10-ses’, or whatever they’re called. Here’s how it went:
- My four children left home – all at once as it happens. One got married, one went to university, one went to Kenya for three months and South Africa for six, and one went back into a mainstream school with punishing hours after three years of home-school, when he could turn up for maths every morning in his PJs if he wanted. I’m not sure which of the five of us made the greatest adjustment to be honest.
- We moved towns, counties and then, as if that was somehow a little pedestrian, countries.
- My husband and I both reached our half centuries and, realising that we’ll never be this young again, dived into another decade of adventure together.
- We’ve travelled further than I ever imagined, by land and air, experiencing some of the joys of Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, USA, Malaysia, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada.
- We hit our 25th & 30th wedding anniversaries, both of us as firmly convinced as ever that we made the right choice back in 1987.
- One child had a major operation that had us all wincing with her.
- Another joined the Marines.
- Two graduated from University.
- All ventured into new arenas of employment and have kept making us proud.
- We lost our lovely ‘like-a-daughter-to-us’ house guest in a tragic traffic accident.
- Between us, we also said, “Goodbye” to a Mum and a Dad.
These last two were definitely not on any list of aspirations I had in my possession.
Most of my ‘review’ consists of events that simply happened as we went along. I didn’t sit down and make specific goals, so maybe they don’t count. I hear life is something that happens to you while you’re busy making plans anyway.
On further reflection I realise that forty plus years on, I am just about to achieve a goal that I day-dreamed about in between writing long stories and gazing out of the window of Class 2P1, at the tender age of seven. I received news on my birthday last month that I had secured a publisher for the book I’ve been working on for the past three years. It was the perfect present, for which I am enormously grateful; very excited too. Woop! When that first copy is put in my hands in the Spring, I think I’ll be over the moon; but I’ll also wish my Dad was still alive to share the celebration with us.
I think I’ve been so busy getting on with life, I haven’t set particular goals, just become increasingly aware that we’re all ‘on the clock’ and that won’t stop ticking until the muscular ticker within also stops for ever. Sometimes a 10-year plan is just too small a time-frame…
What will the 2020’s have in store for me? Or rather, what would I like to have accomplished by their close? Napoleon might have been all about maintaining ‘superiority’ – over whom, I wonder… the whole world? It sounds more like a megalomaniac’s desperate need for personal power to me; I can’t get excited about something that intrinsically means looking down on someone else. Stopping every now and again to review our path and trajectory does have value though; it’s a good deterrent against aimlessness and lethargy. So, for me, I’d like to have a second book out there, I think, just to prove this one wasn’t a fluke. Maybe it’s time for me to learn some Xhosa or Afrikaans to enhance my chapter of life in South Africa. I’d love to master jazz piano too, although that would require a return to the tedium of scales, the challenge of reading bass and treble lines of music simultaneously, as well as using both hands to play, rather than just one finger. It may be beyond me, but would probably take up the next ten years quite nicely. Everest and the marathon will have to wait.
I don’t want to be the party pooper, but I can’t shake the inevitable question: how many more decades do any of us have? In another ten years I could almost qualify for a pension if there’s anything left in the national pot. My Mum will almost certainly have gone to join my Dad. There are so many ‘ifs’ which blur clarity on the future, whether it’s ten years, ten months or even just ten days ahead. We can keep on making plans, dreaming dreams and projecting future hopes, but I would rather live in the blessing of today and the firm assurance, and reassurance, of tomorrow being in God’s very capable loving hands.