I may not be middle-aged, but I think I have reached mid-life.
There are lots of ways to think about dividing life into segments, but lately the way I've been thinking about life is in three parts: school, work and retirement. The first part is easy. Everybody has to go through school, and it's basically the same thing for everyone. We're all equal while we're in school, because the losers and the winners all have to spend the same 10 months going through the same courses to go on to the next Grade. And then, after university, or college, or whatever other plan to stall "real life" has run its course, bam, the second part hits: work.
Unlike school, in which life is neatly segmented into numbered years (Grades 1-12, years 1-4) and expectations around finances (student loan, anyone?) or housing (it's perfectly acceptable to live with mom and dad) are at their lowest, there suddenly comes the moment when school is over, even if you don't want it to be.
If anyone asks you what you're up to when you're enrolled in a course or five, you just nonchalantly answer, "Oh, I'm going to (insert name of university here), getting my (insert name of post-graduate degree here)," and everyone thinks your life is fabulous.
I miss the fabulous. The second part of my life, "work," is a lot more challenging to figure out. Years of work are not neatly numbered. I didn't graduate from Grade 1 of journalism this June, though I had just finished my first full year of full-time work. No one gave me a certificate or anything. My employers do not give me two months off every summer, and I have to pay back the money I borrowed for the first segment of my life.
It's all open-ended. And it freaks me out. I'm 28 and it's September and I'm not in school and I wish I were. I wish I could say I was in grad school. This second part of my life, in which I am expected to just work all the time, has been avoided for as long as possible (I took a year off to go to J-school), but now seems, unfortunately, the reason for my existence. And here's the really scary thing: the third part,"retirement," doesn't happen for a hell of a long time from now, and it's probably going to be a lot shorter than the "work" part. This middle-life stage has got me stumped.
How can I be expected to pursue all that life has to offer and follow my goals and dreams if I have to worry about working all the time? And where are the teachers? How do I know when I'm passing or failing? When's recess?