Finding yourself at 40…..

A couple of weeks ago, I watched 36, Vayathinile. A much lauded movie about a woman who at 36 battles being put down for being old. A childhood friend, who is a career woman, re-ignites her sense of self & she finds herself a new career and re-asserts herself.

At many levels the movie annoyed me, read my review here.

But what I found more disturbing is the many messages that came thru in the movie…

Of course, some of it rankled because I could identify with many of the issues the protagonist faces, as do many other women I am sure…

The choices we make as young women in very good faith, often come back to haunt us. And these are not bad choices mind you, the good ones-

– Moving to another city or country once you get married, for many Indian women of my generation, this was not even a discussion point, just assumed you would. With this one decision, came a host of others, starting a career trajectory again. Sometimes in a new line, because what you trained/worked in may not work in a new place.

– Taking leave to have a family, a great family decision, but often the women’s career is either curtailed, obliterated or dies a natural death.

– Making choices like part time work, working close to home….many of these decisions are made in good faith and for the benefit of more than just the child/children….

But what happens when the children grow up or your circumstances change? Does the time that has passed come back? Can you then start afresh??

The short answer is NO!

In the movie, Vasanthi asks her husband, why he is angry with her for having “mundane interests & work”  when she made the choices for the family……

Her angst is something very real, happens to many women…they get pulled up for  their choices, much much later!

In the movie obviously the situation shown is extreme & probably unrealistic, reality is many women do make work choices that mean they have less stimulating, more mundane jobs, while their husbands may have high flying careers which are exciting- they may then find their wife’s discussion of their days dull OR find it hard to discuss their work at home?

The children too, don’t need a parent as much once they find their wings. And appropriately so, they need to make their own lives.

But what then of the mother? Is it okay for her to expect her husband to appreciate her choices?
Or like the male lead in this film, should he tell her that she did not develop herself enough and he finds her boring?
In many instances, these questions don’t plague women in their 50’s or 60’s….it happens much younger! In the movie she is only 36, which by no stretch of imagination is “old” but it could be too late to start a new professional life!  Or is it….

I was in a not very different position a few years ago….

I had left a degree half done, following the love of my life…at that time it seemed so right…it never occurred to me to anything differently!
While I have always found work, it was a long time before I found something challenging and mentally stimulating….
I have never looked at any job as beneath me…so was happy being a $12/hour telephone operator and a low paid call centre worker for many years… After a series of part time and casual jobs…working close to home, working shorter days so I could pick up kids, taking unpaid leave during school holidays, never going out with colleagues after work, because I had to pick up kids…..I did find more stimulating work, but then we moved…I found work I enjoyed again….and then we moved again……In effect, I was back at the starting line every few years…

While finding enjoyment and challenge in your work is great, what is not so much fun is finding yourself in the same spot forever…
When so much of yourself is attached to what you do and what difference you make to an organisation…

No one is given a bonus for a great meal or a spotless home or even in fact for raising good kids or supporting your partner in their dreams….
It comes across as crass and needy when you point out that you made choices that benefited the other person….And while your family may truly appreciate what you have done, I wonder how many people actually acknowledge or do something about it…

In my instance, my life changed with a single sentence that someone uttered…..I decided to go back to Uni, finish my Master’s and snatch back the things that I put aside….the interests that I had….If I did not take myself seriously, no one else would….And in the end I want to be author of my destiny… And I was lucky that it was not too late to realistically get back in track, had it been a few years later, any steps I took would be too late…even now, when I apply for work, I am weighed up against people 15 years younger than I.

While I found so much empathy for the character of Vasanthi in the movie, I was deeply troubled at her attitude toward her family and others……In whatever you do, never become irrelevant to people closest to you & if you do,  get them out of your life…her acceptance of her husband’s apathy was shocking!

And the sentence that changed my life- Someone said “I will never be caught in a dead end job, my abilities demand so much more”…

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7 thoughts on “Finding yourself at 40…..

  1. Nice article Anu. I have a different say on this. I myself left home very young and got married at the age of 22. Started my life here in Australia as a PhD student after marriage. I don’t think one has to give up their career for family. You just balance it out. It is a daily challenge to keep up with the high pressure and demands that comes along with a high flying career but sharing the responsibilities between both parents definitely ensures that both partners achieve their goals which often leads to a successful career. Hurdles do come in your way and it is a very difficult choice to make at times when your profession demands frequent travel especially when you have a young family but sometimes it’s better not to think too much and just move along. Once you are established in a role then you get to work on your terms. These days organisations are focusing on flexibility to retain highly skilled staff and women in leadership positions.

    All in all I agree that the concept of the movie was not so great. I saw the Malayalam version “how old are you?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very true, Priya! As I said in the start, it all hangs on the choices women make & how much support is there.

    For many in my gen, career has taken a back seat because of the choices either we made or were available to us. Fortunately things have changed  and it is now possible to have a balance.

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  3. Well written Anu! My response is a long one.. 🙂

    Yes, we have compromised & sacrificed a lot for our family in terms of our careers, leaving behind the comfort zones – parents’ place, moving countries etc..

    I am one of those working women who has self-worth issues. Yes, I have made the choice of having children; letting my career take a back seat. Yet, like many, I expected (still do) to be acknowledged & appreciated. All the practicality i have fails me there.

    Our generation of Indian women, especially those who have migrated, have faced these on varying degrees. Could this be due to us being young, with little or no exposure? There are many highly educated, brilliant women whose husbands have frequent travels as part of their work. They have totally sacrificed their careers for their families. I have even higher regards for them.

    Also, you mentioned about the lack of acknowledgement, empathy, appreciation from husband & or children. Yes, we all feel at some stage, in fact, some more than the others. When we point out or demand appreciation, it comes out as crass &/or needy.

    Our generation still has commitments taking care of the elderly parents or in-laws. It will not be the case for the future generations – one, they have better exposure; two, they may not take care of parents, in-laws; three, they are capable of making their choices & most likely not have regrets;

    To answer couple of your questions:
    Does the time that has passed come back? Can you then start afresh??
    I beg to differ with you there. In some cases, it will not come. Some will have circumstances at home change only when it is too late.

    Is it okay for her to expect her husband to appreciate her choices?
    There are 2 sides to the coin here. No, she knows the choices she has made & accept that she had done it out of her own will. She should be appreciative of how the children & family unit has blossomed. In reality, many in our generation don’t see in that angle. I am no exception.

    On the flip side, if she has made choices that put the family in a better position, why not expect appreciation? Whether the woman gets what she ably deserves is a different issue.

    All I can say is that circumstances vary, lifestyles vary. It all comes down to the individual to accept herself for what she is, be it if she gets to make a change in her life in midlife or not.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you Devi, for the very personal & considered response….

    Like you have said, many of the very capable and talented women we know have put aside their ambitions for the sake of the family. I am in awe of their grace and acceptance of their choice- something that I have struggled with as well!

    I also agree with you, fortunately our children are unlikely to have the same angst, they will take no prisoners!

    As Priya has said above, the younger women are much better at keeping their goals & their objectives on track & are less likely to be cowed by social expectations as many in our gen were…

    Men too have changed- I see younger men, even just 5 or 10 years younger, being much more hands on, much more overtly supportive of their partners- unlike men just a few years before, who were happy for their wives to work, but did not change how THEY operated to make it easy for her!

    You are right in another thing too- sometimes things will change at home too late for the woman to follow her dream, even a couple of years later for me, would have meant any change was pointless!

    In the end, a woman has to either make peace with her choice or fester….what she does is totally dependent on her nature!

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    1. I think even now in many younger gen households although men do take turns with some chores, majority of work is still done by women. Having a high end career doesn’t allow a woman to avoid the daily chores of cooking a 3 course meal or not taking kids for their lessons/classes, cooking up endless number of dishes for a social function, putting away a weeks load of washing, pre cleaning the house before the cleaners come in.

      The only advantage is you have the financial independence to buy designer shoes and bags😊😊😊 Hahaha…..

      I still sometime feel that we women try and work twice as much to fit in this world which is a big boys club. It’s getting better but still a long way to go!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Priya, I will try and get the name of the Iranian movie I described in response to your Facebook comment….it reflects exactly what you have described here…while a woman is emancipated in many ways, she slips into a carer role way too easily…Also does not help that is the woman who wants the clean house or ironed laundry, not too many men worry about these things!

    Agree with your last comment- the world does seem to be a big boys club & until women are not the only ones who worry about a child’s dinner or a sink full of dishes…

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  6. Hi Anu
    Like always you have written well. Its like you have written my biography.. I am still finding myself.. caught in between the “I” and the hidden so called “committments”. It makes no differnce to anybody but us. I am still waiting on myself to take the leap …haha. Critisicms have stopped affecting. I am glad you have found your niche. Keep writing because I will definitely be reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

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