I wasn't happy with my life when I turned 30. I was divorced, stuck in a job I hated, had too much debt, no savings to speak of, hadn't published a book or even a story, was living in an apartment with two roommates, and generally felt like I hadn't accomplished much. Curiously, I was really angry with my 20 year old self for doing so much to ruin 30 year old me. The younger James hadn't made any wise choices, and had been almost oblivious to the future. The things I wanted in life... I could have had them at 30 if I'd make better choices when I was 20. But, of course, when I was 20, I didn't really know what I wanted.
But, the smartest thing that 30 year old James did was to realize that all his regrets were actually goals. All the things I wish I'd had at 30? It was time to shape my life so I could have them at 40. And, for the most part, my master plan worked out pretty well. I did have one book and a couple of stories published when I was 40. I still hadn't made enough to quit my day job, but at least I'd ditched the horrible job I'd had when I turned 30 for a much less soul crushing job. I'd also saved a decent sum of money during the decade since I'd participated in my new job's 401k. I owned a house. I was in relatively good health, thanks to drugs that had my allergies and asthma under control. Alas, I was divorced again. I apparently hadn't learned the right lessons from failed marriage #1. And because of the divorce, I couldn't afford the house I owned, and wound up selling it for a loss that wiped out a big chunk of my 401k. Still, while things weren't perfect, I was happier at 40 than I had been at thirty. The stuff I wasn't happy about once more became my goals for the next decade.
I wanted to publish ten books by the time I was 50, and to be free of a day job. I wanted to finally have a good relationship, and own a house that wasn't a huge money pit. I really, really wanted to be completely debt free except for a mortgage. And, I wanted to be physically fit. I'd only discovered the joy of physical activity while being able to breath freely in my late 30s. I really wanted to build on that and see what was possible.
On the last goal, I started off by backsliding, partly thanks to my first goal. Writing a lot of books means sitting in front of a computer a lot of hours. I never have been able to shed myself of my day job, so I felt like I really didn't have time to exercise. My weight exploded, and by the time I was 48 I was nearly 300 pounds. Luckily, I woke up to the stupidity of what I was doing to my body and turned things around. I lost a lot of weight and carved out time to exercise. Now, I can run a 5k and yesterday did a 50 mile bike ride. I can say with some confidence I'm in better shape at 50 than I was at 30.
A big part of this is because of my wife Cheryl. She's completely on board with my fitness kick and has made it part of her own life, so she's right there beside me on my bike rides and my runs, and her awesome organizational skills play a big role in planning our meals out so our calorie intake is sensible. She's my perfect partner physically, mentally, emotionally. It took me over four decades to find her, but, wow, was she worth the wait.
Financially, sheesh. I'm in more debt than ever, after being on the verge of complete debt freedom only a few years ago. Our new house is terrific, but we had to buy a new furnace and put a lot of work into the interior. Then, on Cheryl's old house, the furnace blew, the plumbing failed, and it sat empty for months and months while we paid two mortgages before we finally broke down and rented it. Oh, and did I mention the transmission exploding in my car? Or the power steering failing? I had vowed to drive that car until the wheels fell off, but finally had to break down and buy a new car.
Luckily, my 401k has recovered nicely from the hit it took ten years back, and from losing over a third of its value when the housing market crashed in 2008. Between our 401ks and the value of our real estate, our assets add up to more than our debts, so I guess we're ahead.
Still, goal one for when I'm 60? This time, seriously, debt free, except possibly for a mortgage.
Goal two: A lot more books. I'm hesitant to set a numerical goal. I'd like to write 20 books over the next ten years, and think that's a not unreasonable goal. But, part of me is intrigued with the thought of finding a book with a big idea that takes a long time to write correctly. What could I produce if I really focused on one book for a full year? Two years? Five? I pride myself on writing fast, but I also pride myself on trying new things. So, no numeric goal for the number of books I'll have published in the next decade, but when I tell people ten years from now how many books I've written, I want them to say, "Wow. That's a lot of books."
Goal three: I want to read another 260 novels. This is a novel every two weeks for the next decade. A modest goal; I know people who read a hundred books or more in a year. But, I want to keep developing my brain as well as my body. I seriously slacked off on reading novels for most of my 40s, and didn't really pick up the habit again until just last year. I don't intend to lose my momentum now.
Goal four: Body. I don't want yesterday's 50 mile bike ride to be the most impressive thing I do with my body in my 50s. On the other hand, I've been so focused on it, I haven't really given a lot of thought as to what my next goal will be. 100 miles in a day seems like it might be beyond my practical limits. Now that I can run 5k, I know I want to build to 10k, but I don't know if I want to build to full marathon distances. I can only say that there will be a next goal.
Okay, 60 year old James, here you go. My promises to you. Hope they serve you well.