I’m Not in My Twenties Anymore

Yes, I know it’s a little delayed, but I’m realizing that I’m not in my twenties anymore. I saw these three elderly Japanese men get on the train together after a day of golf, and they seemed like such a happy trio. I would guess they may have been in their seventies. For some reason, I tried picturing what they were like in their twenties and thirties, and tried picturing myself at their age. As you probably know, my brain sometimes thinks in weird circles, so I starting contemplating all kinds of things. What will I have done with my life by the time I’m seventy? Will I be happy? What lessons will I be able to pass on? The train is a wonderful place to sit and simmer in my own thoughts, so if post is a bit off, or comes across as a tad dark or weird, forgive me…

I don’t feel old even in the slightest, but as of late I have this overwhelming concern that I’m not living the life I could be. Last year, I vividly remember writing a post about my friend Hyeyun who passed away at just forty years of age, after succumbing to a battle with cancer. I don’t talk about her much, because I still get sad just thinking about her. I could probably say a hundred good things about her.

I remember hearing the news of her passing while I was at work, and it took everything in me, to be professional, to fight my tears. It hit me extremely hard because I not even a full 24-hours prior, she called me, but I had no idea that it would be our last conversation. Looking back, though, the conversation wasn’t chilling at all, it was peaceful, she seemed so calm.

However, there is another, prior conversation I had with her not long after finding out just how grim her situation was. After finding out that her illness was terminal, I just tried to be a good listening ear, to be as supportive a friend as I could be. I remember one particular day where she really seemed down. One of the things she told me was that she wasn’t afraid of dying, but she was afraid of not having the chance to live the life that she wanted. I never forgot those words.

Since I’ve been here in Japan, I have lost family, teachers, and I’ve seen some iconic figures pass away. Thousands of people lost there lives in a flash, when the tsunami hit after this year’s Great East Japan earthquake. I am mature enough to know that death is one of life’s ultimate realities. But whether it’s my 90+ year-old grandmother, or my 40-year-old friend…death effects me.

I’m a big believer in that it’s not necessarily how long you live, but what you do with the years you have. If there was another major disaster that took me out tomorrow, or if I were fortunate enough to become a nonagenarian like my mother’s parents (in either case) would I be okay with the life I’ve lived? Well, if tomorrow was judgement day for me, my answer would be an unequivocal “no.” There is SO much more that I want to be doing now, and in recent months I’ve become utterly obsessed with it.

Lately I haven’t really been sleeping much (averaging about 3-4 hours a night), missing workouts, missing meals, missing karate, not going out…because I’m working desperately to break through the obstacles necessary to live the life I want.

The biggest set of chains, as you’ve probably guessed, are the financial ones (as they are for most people). I’m doing okay for money, but I’m not okay with okay if that makes sense. I want to know that if I woke up tomorrow and I had no job, that everything would be more than fine. That’s honestly what I would like to work towards someday soon. I have other chains as well: mental chains keep me from learning the things I want to as well as I could (Japanese, karate, piano, etc.), physical chains keep from reaching my fitness goals, and the list goes on. I don’t want to break these chains someday, not when I’m 35, not when I’m 45…it’s time to starting break them now, whether it’s comfortable for me or not.

I’m tired of the “if syndrome” “If I had enough money,” “If I had more time,” “If I could just work for myself,” “If only my Japanese were better,” “If only I could go home for Christmas,” if, if, if…
I just know there’s gotta be something I can do.

Donald Ash

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  • Ed Morrow

    At 41 I still try to live life to the fullest even with time, family, and financial constraints. I started BJJ and my MA in English/TESL at 39 and looking forward to starting a new career in the near future. Even if I die tomorrow, I know that at least I tried. お互いに頑張りましょう。

    • Donald Ash

      Thanks for sharing Ed. That’s freakin’ amazing! You’re doing your think. I need to follow your example. Lately I’ve been letting work get in the way of some of the things I truly love doing, and it’s a really quick way to drain yourself. I’d love to throw back on my BJJ gi and try that again. There was a point in the US where I was teaching karate, going across town to do BJJ and then back across town to do karate sparring. It was a rush. I need a little of the juice in my life right about now. Thanks again for posting, Ed.

  • Nanami

    I hadn’t seen this post before Donald-kun. Gomen.

    Life.. is a very funny thing. I hope you will forgive me because this will be a bit long and personal–but you open up a lot of yourself to all of us who drop by your page so readily, so it’s only fair I share a little piece of my heart with you too if it might give you some assistance in reflecting on all those thoughts. I know this kind of pressure all too well. It’s frustrating.

    Thoreau wrote a few lines about how Men lead lives of quiet desperation. We strive so hard for the tangible things in life because we are taught that those things have so much value. They do have value and a place in life and I think human comforts are a wonderful thing. So many people get caught up in the idea of “things” though and forget the value of time itself and how precious it is. You seem to have latched onto that realization, but in doing so that insight becomes a burden when you are incapable of using those moments to do the things that you want. It makes the heart weary.

    My life has always been sheltered. I grew up in a very small town and from a humble background to put it politely. I had to take out loans to go through undergraduate school and I’m doing the same for graduate school. I took several breaks in between those times though, for love at one point and because of my health at another.

    Love was a wonderful excuse to drop everything, including art school, and go to St. Louis knowing that there was no easy way for me to get back home before the term ended. It was wonderful and it was hard. I had some of the happiest moments of my life while I lived there. I was changed as a person because for the first time in my life I was accepted for myself, just as myself and loved all the more for it. It’s a very powerful thing, ne? It was also the first time I had ever been out of the familiar world of smalltown WV and really had to confront who I was when things were difficult or unpleasant and I couldn’t run away from them to the comfort of my family or my best friend. I grew up a lot that summer and I learned how fragile I really am at times too. I learned that sometimes sacrificing what seems important for someone else’s good can lead you to a new path in life. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t left and I am always grateful to my now friend for that.

    When I came back, I had to confront the reality of needing to finish my education if I ever wanted to do something other than work in some sort of Sales job for the rest of my life. I also started becoming ill over the next few years and that has drastically changed my outlook on things. I’m still floundering as I try to grasp what I want to do with my future versus what I actually can do. I’m finding out that there is more I can do than I ever knew I was capable of as well.

    It started off as just a general sickness but it spiraled out over the next four years to the doctors in my state refusing to treat me because it was so complicated. I was so sick at the some days I couldn’t get out of bed. Last Nov. I had to recieve a transfusion of 4 units of blood. I was in the ICU curled up in pain and crying while a doctor told me they would not do what it would take to fix it because I was too young to make this kind of a decision about my own body. That was a slap to my face.

    Not only was I incapable of even so much as finding a job because of my health but now a doctor was telling me he’d rather me stay in misery than treat me? I was so sick I couldn’t even enjoy simple things like going for a walk. A few months before I had gone of vacation with my three best guy buds at the beach and I’d not been able to play in the water hardly at all. It was my first time at the beach! This sucked!

    I was so tired of everything. There were many, many tears and frustrations involved but I finally got a doctor who would do what others had called an “elective” surgery to fix one of the main problems with my health. A year later? I’m going through my first year of grad school. I am able to get through most days without being too tired and I live alone.

    A year ago that would have been entirely impossible.

    I still don’t know what to do with my future. As you and I have discussed.. I want to go to Japan, but there is a part of me that is very afraid of going considering I still have other numerous health problems and it’s complex.

    But you know what? There are doctors in Japan too.

    The point that I’m trying to make with all this, and I’m so bad at this, is that there’s only so much time that a person can let slip by them. It really is important to figure out what you want and to go for it. Otherwise it’s just sand slipping through your fingers. Yeah, I don’t live every day like it was my last sometimes.. but most of the time I do.

    My life isn’t very exciting but I do the most I can to try and appreciate the beauty of the world and people around me. I have bad days just like everyone but I still try to lend an ear even when I really don’t want to take that phone call. I don’t have much money but I give my change to donation boxes when I see them.

    I recently had to give up upon one of my most precious dreams, to have a family–at least a conventional one. I’ll have to adopt if I ever want children. But, even if I’d managed to have a child and what not.. what kind of mom would I be if I was stuck in bed all day? My dreams are still out on the horizon but it’s fast approaching sunset. Who knows, Donald-kun, you might even get to hang out with me if you stay in Japan! I’ve set my goals almost at 100% for Nihon. I’m tired of this life I have here and the world that I live in, so I’ll get myself a new one.

    My family still thinks I’m crazy.. I think my mom is convinced that if I keep sticking it out through graduate school I’ll stay here in the States and teach close to home somehow. Why would I get a Master’s Degree in ESL Teaching if not to go overseas? -smiles- I might not be able to do everything I can but I’m getting there as best I can at my own pace. I know what the important things are and I take time for the little things too. Like taking a few hours to play a game (or a day.. -cough-) or just spending an evening on the phone with a friend or online chatting with my buddies strung all over the states/world. I try really hard not to forget those little things as well because the big things are always going to be on the horizon. It’s those small moments that slip away that are so vital.

    And sometimes it really is a matter of just saying you’ve had enough and doing it, whatever it is, that puts you in a whole other reality from the one you’re in right now. Gah.. Serious Nanami needs to go on the backburner again.

    I’ll be here cheering you on Donald-kun :)

    • Donald Ash

      Nanami…this is probably the most candid comments I’ve gotten on this site. I read it three times, and there’s no way I can leave you hangin’ on this one.

      First of all, let me sincerely thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with everybody. It’s rare for me to have readers share so much of themselves, but I respect it so much when it happens. This makes my day.

      It may seem like a small part, but I really like what you said about doing what you want to do vs. what you actually can do. I think the vast majority of people have that dilemma day in and day out, reaching desperately for what they want, only to have their hands vice-gripped by reality. I’ve definitely got my bruises, but maybe I’m too thick-headed to stop reaching :) .

      It sounds like you’ve had quite the journey, Nanami. I so love hearing people’s stories because every one is a glimpse into this funny, strange, sometimes crazy thing we call life. Your comment has been a real pick me up.

      Feeling pretty inspired…thank you. You’re the best, Nanami-chan :D

      • いいえ、だいじょぶですよ!

  • LanceT

    Man, I’m right with you on this Donald. Having turned 30 back in January, with 31 right around the corner. I honestly felt that I wasted this past weekend as I made no progress on anything that I wanted to do and largely vegged out on anime (finished “The World God Only Knows” (http://anidb.net/a7568) and rewatching Kekkaishi(http://anidb.net/a4574)).

    With the exception of walking with a friend from my weight loss class in a 5K walk to benefit Alzheimer’s, it was a pretty unfruitful weekend. Though I did enjoy the extra rest that I normally don’t get, which could be just what I needed.

    Now I need to get back into gear and finish up my statement of purpose for when the JET program application opens up later this month. This is one of the things on my list to do in my life. If I don’t make it into the JET program this year, I’ll apply one more time before moving forward with my other plans.

    Of course I have other irons in the fire as well that I’m working on while I go through the application process. The biggest is that I’m working on an iPhone game with my brother. If we can make a few profitable games it may help me cut down my student loans that I currently have weighing me down as well. Debt is such a ridiculous anchor that drags you down and keeps you from being free and spontaneous with your life. Which is why I’m striving to rid myself of it completely. I just need to buckle down and do what I need to do, but that’s easier said than done.

    Thanks for this post Donald, it got me thinking about this again at a time where I felt like I was letting “sand slip through my fingers” as Nanami so eloquently put it. がんばって!

    • Donald Ash

      Wow, Lance. Thank you so much for sharing. I know I’m super late replying to this comment, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t read it. I really hope that JET program comes through for you because it’s a great experience, and in my humble opinion that’s probably the best company to go with if you get it (sorry AEON and Interac). I hear you on those student loans, too. I want to get rid of mine completely, but it sometimes seems like the impossible dream. That’s so weird you mentioned iphone games. I don’t play them all that much anymore, but was definitely thinking about the developer side of things. When you and your brother finish, please let us all know about it, okay?

      • LanceT

        Heh, I get an email whenever someone posts to an article I comment on, so no need to rush in getting back to comment on something. :)

        I’m really hoping things go forward with the JET program as well. Worse case is that I have to apply again next year and get more time to work on game development with my brother. Hoping not being straight out of college will work to my benefit, but we shall see.

        I’ll definitely keep you posted on how things go with JET and our game development project. :D

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