Bola Adeosun is a final year Sociology student who is writing a long essay on midlife and midlife crises. Her research will include the idea of the rich and meaningful middle-age years (35 to 60) – especially as it has emerged in Nigeria in the last 50 years. As such, her search would be tailored towards unveiling the origin and meaning of the popular old cliché, “Life begins at 40”.
This may sound absurd, but if one takes a cue from the Duke of York in England, who, while commemorating his 40th birthday, said in an online interview that life at 40 couldn’t be better, Adeosun’s interest in the project would perhaps be better appreciated. “Life is a series of successes and failures,” the Duke said. “One must learn from the failures and build on the successes. I am becoming increasingly convinced that life does, indeed, begin at 40.”
True, for some people life begins at 40, while for others it does not. But honestly, life starts at any age, and doesn’t end! Some people can renew their spirit, cheer up, run on the beach like a child, enjoy youth music, fill their lungs with deep throaty laughter, and harvest great achievements even at 49!
“I lost my job nine years ago and started looking for a new one,” recalls 49-year-old Nosifat Akinosho. “But I discovered the bitter fact that younger applicants come first in selection consideration, so I started renewing my qualifications until I felt a great wind of change blowing my spirit open. So every time I failed, I went back home with more determination to regain my self-confidence and reassure myself of my self-qualification, until I finally secured the job I was looking for. Therefore, I say to those who have passed the age of 40: try to fill your time, dream; start climbing to the summit, yes, go ahead, it is entertaining.”
As the adage goes, life throws all kinds of pebbles at people, and age 49 is some kind of golden age for those who believe they have lived a full life while transiting from 40 to 50. Hence, age 49 symbolises for them the experience, rather than the innocence characteristic of their teens, twenties and thirties.
“My first marriage lasted from age 20 to 30,” says Bayo Aderibigbe, a psychiatrist. “After that, I found another love, another job, another life. Yes, for me, I started to really enjoy life from my early 40s; even now that I am 49, I am still with my wife. So, for all those who are pedantic, no, life does not begin at 40, although it sure feels like it does!”
Like Nofisat Akinosho, Peter Odusola had a well-paying managerial job and generally lived a happy family life in his early 40s, even though there came a twist to his story. “Now, about to clock 50, after a long spell of unemployment, I got a low-paying job and my family life is falling apart. Is there any chance that I can now begin my life again?” he asks sadly.
“It depends on how you look at and define the term ‘life’,” says Alade Akintade, a clinical psychologist. “It is a fact that at 49, many adults would have learnt a lot in life having lived and had experiences on the surface of the earth for 49 whole years. At 18, a teenager has only lived 18 years and has learnt a lot up to that age. Depending on your age, life is a different kettle of fish for each and everyone. For me, life begins at any age and it depends on what life and circumstances one is confronted with at that particular age.”
For Shalewa Akinseye, a brand consultant, life does begin at 40 or 49. “Until 40,” she explains, “we spend our lives wishing, trying to fulfil the wishes and looking around. But at 40 or 49, we get the idea that the only place to look at is ourselves. Most successful men and women give their best in their late 30s and after 40.”
Jessica Aldophus, a student of psychology, gives another twist to the talk. She believes that people in general go through a period of depression after 40, thinking that their time is almost up; but at that age, they finally know what they want and still have a chance to achieve it. According to her, “Life is truly what you make of it at any given time of your life. Each stage is important and can be the best or the worst, depending on your input. A really happy and fulfilling life starts whenever you want it to.”
However, many 49-year-olds still, in a way, think as children, volunteers a sociologist who does not want to be named. This, he suggests, is probably so because they had better childhood growing up in the 1960s.
Like the anonymous sociologist, some people insist that life in Nigeria in the 1960s was better that what it is today. “We had a mother who stayed at home to take care of us while our father went to work daily in a renewed and liberated Nigerian spirit, the independence spirit,” Ulom Oha, a banker, recalls with a smile.
Clement Obubra, a lawyer, also maintains that life was more comfortable and better in the 1960s and 1970s. “We didn’t have all the technology of today then. We played outside all the time – in the fields, peaceful and beautiful neighbourhoods. It was really good because both the government and the people were sincere.”
Obubra recalls, nostalgically, how each of them was assigned household chores which they dared not fail to do before their mother returned from the market. “Growing up in the years before the Nigeria Civil War broke out in 1967, I was brought up with an iron hand, but that made me a better adult today. These days, there is emphasis on a lot of money and material things for parents.”
He further adds, “I was born in the 1960s and can still very much remember being able to pop next door at ages 7 and 8. Then, you could leave your doors open without worrying about someone breaking in. Children were appreciated better and we were allowed out to play and shouted back in for meals which we all sat round the table to devour in gratitude.”
Nowadays, the level of violence, insecurity in the country and family squabbles worry most people that they can no longer come to terms with the joy of the 1960s when Independence was still fresh and people’s lives were full of laughter.
And so, the meaning of life constitutes a philosophical question concerning the purpose and significance of human existence or biological life in general and the concept has been expressed through the cliché, “Life begins at 40”. Even at 49, not a few people are still seeking answers to the questions: But why are we here? What’s life all about? And what is the meaning of it all? Anyone with the answers?
FUNKE OSAE-BROWN and OBINNA EMELIKE