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I’ve found myself re-counting numbers recently. Second guessing myself. This morning, I counted the handful of change for my morning cappuccino three times. Three. Clearly, the trust has gone.

Maths has never been my strong suit, but still. It’s starting to verge on the ridiculous. At work I find myself struggling to grasp what the month number for May is (it’s five…isn’t it?). Is this just age? Surely not, I’m barely 32. The years of alcohol? Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling the reason behind this strange emergence of Dyscalculia is because I find myself in, well, a strange period in my life.

calc ageI have begun to question things in ways that haven’t crossed my mind for at least ten years. And it’s really annoying because, with my questions remaining unanswered, I feel lost and discontent. And the other, even more annoying, thing is that it’s only me that can provide any answers.

It’s funny how it is generally acknowledged that you become wiser the older you get and, by default, more confident. But my confidence is no longer the unwavering warrior it was when I was younger and knew nothing. Sure, I’ve got less tolerant of the selfishness of others and I am more likely to say so rather than hush into a corner and somehow blame their behaviour on my faults. And yes, I’ve become openly accepting of those with whom I shall never be friends, who shall never like me and vice versa. We are all different. But am I more confident with age? In a word (well, two) – not quite.

I suppose it depends on what confidence means to you. For some I imagine it’s having the guts to go out on stage in front of hundreds of people. To be able to take a risk, make that scary career change. For me, it’s having the strength of self-conviction – the total assurance that everything will turn out ok in the end, because you are you, and you can handle it.

My self-possession rose and peaked almost out of nowhere between the ages of 24 and 29. With hindsight – something I’m pretty sick of now – I realise this time is The Golden Period. The pressure is off. You become aware, for the first time, how far you have come in such little time. Your twenties bring with them an intense personal growth spurt that you have no real control over – grown-up stuff just happens to you whether you want it or not. You accept this fact, grow from it. You have money. You are young. You sit back and enjoy it for a bit. Uncomplicated confidence. You are going places and you know it.

But then you hit 30. Ouch. All that confidence so flippantly built ebbs away. But this time the subtle change in yourself, so frivolously disregarded when it moved in the other direction, does not go unnoticed. It starts to drive you a bit mad. You get angry with yourself. How could you let this happen? Why did you sit back and relax while youth and all its opportunities passed you by – look at all those chances you were too lazy to take. And now, now you’re just too old to do things. You’ve got commitments.

It turns out my star didn’t rise at the same trajectory and speed (hell, I don’t move at the same speed) as was mapped out in my twenties. I got too comfortable. Smug. Other people are younger than me now. It is annoying. They are annoying. To make matters worse they are more skilled than I both was and am now – they’ve been forced to do more internships than I’ve had hot toddies. They don’t need to do IT training. They don’t even call it IT – to them, technology is just life.

Life is hard enough as it is. And when the total confidence that everything will work out how you want it leaves the room, what do you do? For me, well, I’ve got to work out what it is that I want – it turns out thirty-something Gemma might have different (less ambitious) ambitions from those of ten years ago. And it’s sobering to admit that to yourself.

I think the key is nailing that fine balance between accepting who you are and what you can achieve whilst still treating yourself with the respect to challenge yourself and grow. Maybe once I solve that equation two and two might start to make four again.

What would be your Mastermind subject?

I was thinking about this in the shower the other day, as you do. And it occurred to me that I no longer have a subject that I can honestly say I specialise in.

The revelation made me genuinely sad. Have I let myself down?

mastermind_chairImage courtesy of bigissue.com

I don’t really specialise in anything any more – I just generalise, badly. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve managed to get through life so far. But over the last few days I’ve been asking myself the question – what exactly do I know?

It’s generally acknowledged that you’re supposed to know more things when you get older, right? But in reality while (some of us) become wiser, cold-hard-facts-knowledge is something we just end up forgetting. Life takes over and we stop practicing – getting on with daily life doesn’t leave an awful lot of time for knowledge pursuits. Not unless you’re doing it as part of your day job.

I’d say that my knowledge peaked at 22 and it’s all been drip dropping out like a leaky tap since.

Does part of us stop caring? I’d argue that most of us get to a point where we’re not trying to prove ourselves to the world anymore. You start to relax.

I was quite happy with this relaxing, until the other day in the shower. Now I’m worried – should I be learning more stuff?

You forget what it is like to learn. The confidence it brings. When I was at school, absorbing all that information was effortless. Natural. So much so that I took it for granted. But now as an adult, well – it’s a totally different, scary slog of a story.

Last week – before the shower – I was told that my punctuation is all over the place. At the age of 31 and owner of a Bachelor’s Degree in the English Language this bombshell was hugely shame inducing.

Handily, for some reason I’ve had the Penguin Guide to Punctuation in my bookcase for who knows how many years. So, I thought I’d spend ten minutes reading through that to refresh my ageing memory…

Eight days later, and I still have not grasped the functions on the comma. *At this point I will take the opportunity to apologise for the offensive and incorrect use of commas riddled throughout this blog post.

When the weekend arrived I was at my wits end. I thought I’d give my poor brain a break. Do some relaxing, something I am confident I am good at.

We walked into town. Loafed around the library. Got tired from all that hard work. Sat down in said library for a break. We looked up and realised the square outside was packed. Positively teeming with throngs of over-excited small children literally running, throwing themselves at whatever was going on.

I’ll tell you what was going on. Science.

The British Science Festival had come to town, and my word was it going down well.

Some children were blowing bubbles bigger than the London Eye.

Some children (and grown adults) were running barefoot through a bowl of custard – which held solid under the weight of those who ran quick enough.

But the biggest hitter – and most entertaining to watch – were the mini canisters which, when filled with two reactive elements, exploded.

The sheer glee on each child’s face as the canister propelled itself into the air as if by magic, and the rapt fascination as they were shown how this had happened was really was heart warming. And a little inspirational.

That thirst for knowledge is something I wish I had made more of an effort to hold on to.

But of course, it’s easy for kids. They have tons of time to dedicate to learning. They don’t have any worries about money, work or getting the washing done.

Perhaps the answer is to stop being so damn lazy. Just take up a hobby. REALLY take up a hobby. (Not just buying Kirstie Allsopp’s Craft book and leaving it there next to the TV.)

Because despite it being hard work – and I already have enough of that at actual work – learning new things really does make you feel better about yourself. Helps you feel as though you can go about the world with some confidence – even if you don’t want to take it over any more.

Being a specialist in something – no matter how trivial or obscure – is a small way of demonstrating to the world, and to yourself, that you’re still here. In a small, relaxed way.

So, I think after I’ve conquered commas I will release the inner child with me, and learn something. Perhaps I’ll start by taking out a science book from the library. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be the one showing small children how to walk over custard.

And if John Humphrys invites me over to the big leather chair, I’ll have the confidence to say yes.

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