30 years ago today, aside from the first ever episode of the most popular British soap Eastenders airing, I was born.
I absolutely couldn’t care less that I’m 30. I haven’t been dreading this day, nor do I attribute any sort of aging to it, any more so than any other day. However, a “n0” birthday is a milestone that only comes along once a decade so it seems like a perfect time for some reflection.
The last 10 years
Since February 2010 (the last 5 years), quite a number of things have changed in my life. I became a professional engineer, I became a father, I have another child on the way, I started my own business which is now thriving and I moved house 3 times.
In the last 10 years, even more has changed. In February 2005, I was in my second year at university, was single, living with my Mum in the UK and I was working for the NHS. Over the next 5 years, I would meet and fall in love with Marti, graduate from university, become a Christian, move to the States to be with her, get married 60 days later, battle 8 months of being unable to work before getting my green card, a job, my driver’s license, a car and our first apartment in the space of about 4 weeks.
Reflection on who I am
As I think about the man I am today, where I’ve come from and the boy I used to be, I’ve noticed quite a few specific observations about how I’ve changed in particular and more general observations about how we as humans mature (or don’t).
The first thing is that nothing is given. Not only is nothing guaranteed but you’ll change in ways and do things that you would have never believed, conceived or thought possible.
On moving to the States
10 years ago, I was an atheist civil engineering student very happily single, set on never getting married (let alone having children), planning on moving to London after I graduated to work on the infrastructure needed for the London 2012 Olympics.
I was also quite anti-American. I didn’t like American culture, American people or American politics. So the irony that just 6 months after my 20th birthday I would meet and fall in love with an American who I would move in with and marry in less than a year is not lost on me.
Many of my annoyances with all things American remains: in many respects they have been softened, but in others they’ve been amplified. I definitely prefer life in the UK, but at the same time, the USA has been good to me. Clearly, my wife (and children) are American and since they’re not going anywhere, nor am I.
It’s also allowed me to earn way more money than I could have imagined: my starting salary here was about 50% more than I could have earned in the UK. Coupled with a much lower cost of living (think $3/gal for gas is expensive? Try $10…), my disposable income is far greater than it ever could have been in the UK.
At the same time, I largely attribute my ability to start and run my own business to the entrepreneurial spirit and opportunities that weave through American culture and business. It now earns me about 40% of my total income, so we’re fortunate enough to be able to have Martina stay home with Ellie (and soon, Jack) and to live comfortably while doing so.
Money is not everything and it is certainly not my master but it does afford us a lifestyle which we enjoy so for that I am thankful.
On my personality
When I think back to the bumbling, awkward young man I was when I turned 18, I’ve certainly come a long way. While I’m still awkward in certain social situations (particularly large gatherings or where I don’t know anyone), I’m much more confident in my day-to-day life. While I think that a large part of this is down to simply growing up, I also attribute a lot of it to living in the States. People are more talkative here than back home (especially in the south of England, where people are notoriously insular) and it’s just worn off on me. I also think that you need to be more assertive here, because the general populace is more brash and selfish, so if you don’t want to get trampled on, you need to stick your neck out a bit.
On my beliefs, morals and values
My value system is constantly evolving. I think that your environment, friends, family and life situation changes, morphs and develops these over time. For example, many of my opinions on certain subjects changed once I had a daughter. When you care for another human as intimately as a parent does, it affects you.
My beliefs on privacy, abortion, fiscal responsibility (both at a personal and a national level) and the media have all undergone substantial transformations since leaving school. I’m much more conservative than I used to be, which I can put down to growing up, the changing landscape of Internet and citizen privacy and becoming a parent.
I don’t think it helps that I’m quite fickle: a particularly persuasive argument could cause me to (at least temporarily) change my point of view on a situation. However, I think this is also because I’m quite objective and empathetic, and find it easy to see both sides of the story, making it easy for me to side with either party. I’m becoming more convicted of my beliefs, but I also don’t think for a second that I have all the right answers and certainly don’t want to exude the kind of arrogance that religious and political stalwarts do. I’d much rather discuss a matter with someone who disagrees with me than force my doctrine down their throat (or have it shoved down mine).
I never really had my heart set on having a family. In fact, I was quite sure that I didn’t want to get married and I certainly didn’t want any children.
I think that a big part of my stance on not wanting a family stemmed from fear and selfishness. I grew up in a home where my parents got divorced when I was 10 years old and it hit me pretty hard. I now see that instead of dealing with the actual issue at hand, I just built a wall that would stop me from ever being in that situation by removing the desire for marriage.
I’m also quite introverted, which does not mean I’m shy (though I do have timid tendencies). It means that I enjoy being by myself and having along time, so selfishly I didn’t want to get married because I liked just being by myself.
As it turns out, I met an amazing woman that I love being around and while I still very much
like need my alone time, I enjoy spending time with Martina every day.
As for kids, this played even more into my selfish desires. Having a child means effectively putting your life on hold for a few years. You will get a day here and there to yourself but by and large you don’t have any “me time” any more.
Martina and I never wanted kids: we were just going to be the philanthropic aunt and uncle that could pour into other children’s lives while not enduring the life-changing consequences of having children. However, we started to changed our minds in about 2012 and without trying, we were pregnant with Ellie, which was fantastic as it turned out. If we’d have waited for “the right time”, it never would have come and we’d still be childless.
Now though, I adore my children. I have so much fun playing with Ellie and watching her grow up. She’s the second best thing that ever happened to me and I’m loving it. And now my heart is filled with anticipation for the arrival of Jack here in the next couple of months. It’s not all ponies and roses of course, but pound for pound, I’d rather have Ellie and Jack in my life than not.
It’s no secret that I have long struggled with my weight. Since puberty, I’ve generally been overweight, though never obese. I’ve had some better times and worse times along the way but by and large I have trouble maintaining a healthy weight.
I get on stints where I get very dedicated and lose a good amount of weight in a healthy timeframe before slipping back.
While my weight continues to fluctuate, I am at least happy that I have made the move towards vegetarianism and veganism which has caused me to make much healtheir food choices. I feel more alert and awake during the day and my bloodwork shows better cholesterol and glucose levels.
I really need to focus on doing more exercise and eating better still, not only for me, but even more so for my children, so that I can both play with them with ease and so that I’ll be around long enough to see them get married and have their own kids.
I’ve started taking more action towards this by getting a Fitbit and being more committed to tracking my food intake in LoseIt!. I don’t know if I’ll always struggle with this, but I am determined to trying to overcome it.
Reflection on what I’ve done
When you try and consider all that you’ve done in 3 decades, the list can seem embarrassingly short because you only try to see the “noteworthy” stuff. And frankly with as much as we do in our lives, it’s hard to commit much else to memory anyway.
I’ve been on TV (Countdown at age 12), I was in the Sea Cadets for about 5 years, I broke my arm 3 times (none of which have a particularly heroic story behind them) and I did a little bit of travelling, though not nearly as much as I would have liked.
In 2004, I took a trip to Stockholm by myself, which has to be one of my favourite trips ever. I had planned to go to Iceland to capture its barren and cold beauty on camera (I was very in to photography), but the tickets were prohibitively expensive, so I went to Sweden instead. I only went for 4 days, but exploring and being by myself was so liberating and rejuvenating, not to mention that Stockholm is a beautiful city and I very much enjoyed exploring what the city had to offer. I’d go back in a heartbeat, but I’d rather explore the rest of Scandinavia (and Iceland) first.
In 2012, Marti, her mother and I took a trip to Portland, OR. We already had a good idea that we wanted to move there but this trip really confirmed that for us. I have a whole list of reasons on why we want to move there but in general it’s just more suited to our hippy, vegan, alternative lifestyle. It was such a memorable trip between the gorgeous weather, the lush greenery and the vineyards. Just as soon as we can we’ll be making our way there.
It’s hard to try and pinpoint a particular achievement or success and I think that’s because most of our achievements are in the small, everyday things. I haven’t won some notable award nor have I broken a world record but I’ve found an amazing wife and started raising a beautiful family that I wouldn’t give up for the world. In that sense I have achieved a lot and I consider every part of my life, both the successes and the failures, a contribution to where I am today.
Looking towards the future
As I think about it, I’ve done a good amount in my fairly short life, but I would like to do more. I’d like to do more for myself, my family and for others.
I rarely take much time for myself. I need to be more purposeful about setting aside a bit of time for myself here and there. As I mentioned before, I’m an introvert, so there’s a conflict between my need for spare time and my desire to do as much as possible to keep my business thriving and to give my family everything they need. I acknowledge, but need to act on the fact, that by not giving myself what I need once in a while, I will ultimately not be able to serve my clients nor my family, so I need to be more intentional about giving myself time to do whatever I want without feeling guilty about it.
In tandem with giving more time for myself I need to give more time for my family. I love spending time with them so I always feel guilty about needing to work when I could be spending time with them. I need to give myself some leeway to let my clients wait a little longer for some things so that I can enjoy some dedicated and extended time with my family.
And lastly I’d like to be much more generous to others. I have an empathetic and charitable heart but I can sometimes get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems before me, causing me to not do anything. I’d say I’m a moderately generous man but I’d definitely like to do more, giving more of my time and my money to causes that need them the most, whether for dear friends or complete strangers.
It’s been a good 30 years and I’m happy with how far I’ve come. I’d like to have gone further but that’s the beauty of this reflection. Now that I have my thoughts laid out in front of me I can actively seek to do more of these things over the next 10 years.