This is a poem I wrote at the back end of last year after a bit of a setback, careerwise. It’s not important what that was, but it hit me like a train. This was unusual for me, as I don’t brood on things too much – apart from football, stupidly – and always try to take the view that ‘these things happen’ and that as long as I can move on with life, I will.
However, this was different. When I was growing up my own father went through career problems at a similar age and as a kid in his mid-teens, an age when these things tend to leave an impression, I watched him suffer. His situation was far more serious than my own, but career-wise at least, he never recovered. He was out of work for a number of years, having successfully fought his old employer in court, and it all combined to reduce him to someone who was constantly angry and who must have felt that he’d never have hope again. So, faced with the news that I received, it was a worry to say the least.
Here’s the poem.
Crossroads You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father before you. Was he older? Younger? The memory vague, but those days branded on to you, although the details fade. Until now. Two envelopes, weeks apart, that plunged you not once but twice to depths you hadn't thought were there anymore. To questions about your worth, your place, your existence. Dark thoughts return, like a playground bully, arm round you, sinister smile, pouring poison in your ear. You've not thought like this in years, not imagined you'd think like this again. You do not know which way to turn. The news leaves you like a puppet without a master, limbs useless and flat, splayed out across a table thinking, like a coward that perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, they'd be better off without you. But just as this is not a real option, this is not a real crisis. You wipe away tears, busy yourself, think, confide in those you trust, love, value. There is even a small sense of liberation. Slowly, you crawl out from under your stone and although you feel that age is cruel and experience no longer valued, this is not the end. You stop short of full on Gloria Gaynor, but you will, in fact survive. You find some focus, tell yourself that you are not him and that you will find not the other side, but an other side, that the confidence, however painted on it may be, will return. You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father and like others, worse off, who felt that their whole world had collapsed, sometimes even because it had. But every crossroads has a way home.
The poem is about how bad it all felt. I genuinely felt like I’d let my family down. I felt that I’d completely failed and I felt extremely angry at that. The feelings that the whole situation prompted in me took me by complete surprise and for a short time I couldn’t see the point in anything anymore. As I usually do, I internalised everything and even though I eventually discussed it with my wife and a few trusted friends, the extent of my thoughts and feelings weren’t revealed. Until now, I suppose.
Eventually, after a few weeks of brooding and, dare I say it, feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. I’d regard myself as quite strong, mentally and I could see that what had happened could just be an opportunity.
For me, there’s no point in sulking and I won’t allow setbacks of any size to hold me back for too long. Not that I’m hell-bent on moving too far forward, mind. I know not everyone is like this and I wouldn’t ever criticise or question anyone’s right to feel any way that they want, but as a grown up with a wife and family I made a conscious decision to get back on with life, hence what I hope is an optimistic ending to the poem.
It does worry me that my age is now a barrier. I feel that my experience isn’t particularly valued and that in education there has been a shift in thinking. If it’s not shiny, smiley and youthful, it probably doesn’t have what it takes. Call me a cynic, but often these new approaches from people who’ve had a job for no more than a few years are just approaches that have been done before, but wrapped in nicer paper nowadays. At my age my work feels like a competition to see who can smile the most and shout the loudest. I’m not a very good smiler or shouter either! But, as the poem hopefully shows, I’m not prepared to go under just yet!
I’m definitely at a crossroads in terms of work, age, the way I look, the things I do, the company I keep and much, much more.
With work, I can’t decide whether I want to slow down or head for a new challenge. Or just to keep doing what I’m doing, which is something I love at a place I love. With my age and a notable birthday on the horizon, I need to choose whatever I do carefully; not just in work. In terms of my looks, my hair is greying, my body not quite as responsive as it once was, my face a little more haggered. I won’t be reaching for the Just for Men and won’t resort to some form of cosmetic surgery, but sometimes I catch myself in the mirror and wonder where the fresh-faced 17 year old me went. And I’m always wondering, does my bum look big in this!
But I’ve realised that there’s no point in worrying about it. Just choose a road. Eventually I’ll find the right one. And whichever I choose, I’m lucky enough to have family and friends to rely on.
I hope you liked the poem. As ever, I’d love to hear what people think, so feel free to leave a comment.