Life Lessons on Turning 50

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Well its finally happened. I’ve turned 50 today! On reaching such a milestone its good to pause and reflect on lessons learned and I am still learning. Hopefully this is not just a vain exercise, naval gazing, or even the ramblings of an old man! My intention is that they may provide some good food for thought for you the reader that you can then apply in your own life.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 09.10.36Some quotes and reflections that have guided my thinking:

Soren Kierkegaard said, Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’

Also according to J. K. Rowling, whose quote from her speech to Harvard graduates we have used in the introduction to the podcasts:

“Life is difficult and complicated and beyond anyone’s total control. The humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

So while its great to learn from the experience of your own mistakes, how much better to learn from the experience of other people’s mistakes!

With that in mind and in no particular order here are some personal life lessons on turning 50:

1. I’ve been learning to be comfortable in my own skin and context.
For much of my life I’ve been a dreamer, excited by the possibility of what could be and striving to climb the next hurdle or achieve some goal or other. Growing up I’ve often felt an outsider.  I came to England at a young age from India, but for many decades have not really felt I belong here. However, when in India I would feel I did not belong there either. (A 15 minute video on that is here).

That pattern has continued for much of my life. I’ve played so often the dangerous ‘comparison game’ – comparing my lot with that of others and often feeling hard done by. I am sure that contributed to my struggle with depression and negativity. (For more resources on combatting depression see here).

The reality is there will always be people ahead of you in some way or other and also always people who have less than you. So much better to be thankful for what you do have than wishing for what you don’t have. (A great teacher of that is Nick Vujicic).

By all means be ambitious and get out of your comfort zone, but at the same time it is vital learn to enjoy the present moment. The time to be happy and thankful is now. (Also see the blog posts Which Way Are You Looking Part 1 and Part 2 along with the podcast Rediscovering Joy).

A particular turning point for me was in my early 40s when I undertook  an exercise to ask 10 people who knew me well to point out one strength and one area I needed to work on. I always remember the feedback from one dear friend, Isaac Shaw. He wrote succinctly, “Sunil needs to learn to be comfortable with his own uniqueness.” That was like a thunderbolt in my life. A true paradigm shift that enabled me to move on in my thinking.

Rather than wishing I was someone else or somewhere else, I have kept on needing to learn to embrace what is right in front of me. Slowly I have been learning to apply that lesson.

Nahum of Bratslav said:
“When I appear before the Heavenly tribunal and I am asked, ‘Why did you not lead your people like Moses?’
I shall not be afraid.
‘When I am asked, ‘Why were you not a David who worshiped me and shepherded your people?’
I will be calm.
‘When they query, ‘Why were you not Elijah who spoke the truth and brought forth justice?’
Even then I will not shake.
“Ah, but when they ask, ‘Nahum, why were you not Nahum?’
It is then I will tremble from head to toe!”

2. While being content with who I am, there is a place to appropriately strive and grow into all who I am called to be.
I think this is the paradox with life. it would be so easy to use the first lesson as an excuse to justify my bad habits and selfishness.

John Newton (1725 -1807) was a slave trader who lived a life of profanity, gambling and drinking. He experienced a spiritual awakening which led to a radical change in the direction of his life. He wrote the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. A favourite saying of his captures the concept of, what is called The Gap beautifully:

“By the grace of God I am what I am. I am not what I want to be, but I thank God I am not what I once was.”

He was able to make the distinction between where he ideally wanted to be and where he actually was while at the same time being able to be grateful for how far he had come.

When I think of spiritual maturity and growing in Christ-likeness I now have much more helpful questions to ask myself.

Compared to say a year ago:

  • Am I growing more or less easily irritated these days?
  • Am I growing more or less easily discouraged these days?


3. Life only really makes sense in the context of love and friendship.
It is so easy to find fault in others. It appears so natural to devalue those around us or see relationships as a means to just getting what you want. I have so often been guilty of those things.

My parents and wife Sally have beens such an example to me of unconditional love and acceptance. (For a tribute to my Dad and lessons I have learnt from my parents see here).

I have also been reminded of the huge importance of this lesson from the sudden loss on 17 March 2014 of my dear friend Abhishek Banerjee (Bunty). I met with him in Delhi the week before he died and spoke to him from England on the morning of his untimely death  (For more on that see here.) Bunty certainly taught me a lot on the value of friendship. Here is what I wrote about him then and what he taught me on friendship:

“Bunty enjoyed friends for friendship sake. He had a wealthy abundance of close friends. In a world where so many see friendships as a means to only task fulfilment, Bunty was always willing to make himself available to talk and listen- no matter what the day or time. During my recent week in Delhi, as was so typical of him, he would go out of his way to pick me up from various addresses to take me to my accommodation so that we could simply ‘hang out’ (as he liked to say) and chat.”

(For details on a project in Kolkata set up in Bunty’s memory see here).

It really is friendships that make sense of life. What is the point of doing anything or having anything if you don’t have people to share that with? It is so important to have a community of people around you who nurture and encourage you. Having said that it is also the difficult relationships that can teach you so much about yourself. (That will have to be another blog post at another time!).

I think I need to stop here!

Thank you for paying attention to the ramblings of an ageing man!

Feel free to add any comments, thoughts or reflections as you see fit.



18 thoughts on “Life Lessons on Turning 50”

  1. Stephen John Prasad

    Dear Dr. Sunil,
    Wish you very happy and blessed birthday.
    Thank you so much for sharing your life lessons. These are helpful in reflecting my own life situations. Thank you for being our mentor. Praying for you and your family.

  2. Nice reflection of your 50 years of experiences. I admire your perpetual desire to become a better individual. Keep up the good work!

  3. Happy Birthday Sunil
    I’ve never met you but thanks to your blog posts I feel I’ve come to know you.
    Thank you for sharing of yourself . I have been greatly encouraged and challenged by all that you have shared. Here’s to many more years and many more posts.

    I don’t know if you know this poem The Core by Steve Taylor but it came to mind when I read your post.
    The Core – By Steve Taylor

    It can take a whole lifetime to become yourself —
    years of feeling adrift and alone
    acting a role you were never meant to play
    stammering in a language you weren’t meant to speak
    wearing clothes that don’t fit
    trying to pass yourself off as normal
    but always feeling clumsy and unnatural
    like a stranger pretending to be at home
    knowing that everyone can sense your strangeness
    and resents you because they know you don’t belong.

    But slowly, through years of exploration
    you see landmarks that you somehow recognize
    hear vague whispers that seem to make sense
    strangely familiar words, as if you had spoken them yourself
    and ideas that resonate deep down, as if you already knew them.
    And slowly, your confidence grows
    and you walk faster, sensing the right direction
    feeling the magnetic pull of home.

    And now you begin to excavate,
    to peel away the layers of conditioning
    to shed the skins of your flimsy, false self
    to discard those habits and desires which you absorbed
    until you reach the solid rock beneath
    the shining molten core of you.

    And now there’s no more uncertainty —
    your path is clear, your course is fixed.
    This bedrock of your being is so firm and stable
    that there’s no need for acceptance
    no fear of exclusion or ridicule.
    Everything you do is right and true
    deep and whole with authenticity.

    But don’t stop. This is only the halfway point —
    maybe even just the beginning.

    Once you’ve reached the core,
    keep exploring, but more subtly
    keep excavating, but more delicately
    and you’ll keep unearthing new layers, finding new depths
    until you reach the point which is no point
    where the core dissolves
    and the solid rock melts like ice
    and the self loses its boundary
    and expands to encompass the whole.

    A self even stronger and more true
    because it’s no self at all.

    A self you had to find
    so that you could lose it.​

    1. What a powerful poem Beverley. So good of you to share it.
      It resonates with a book I am currently reading: “Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr.
      I am still digesting what he is saying, but the poem you have shared is so in tune with it.
      Thank you also for your encouragement.

      1. Hi sunil
        Richard Four is one of my favourite authors. I love the book you are talking about.
        I think the poem I quoted may have been quoted on one of his blogs.
        For me he brings together spirituality and psychology beautifully.
        Happy reading.

  4. Happy Birthday!

    It’s amazing to think that, ever since you were a baby 50 years ago, every thought that has passed through your mind was first known and understood by your Heavenly Father. And He’s been doing that for every person, everywhere, for all time.

    I hope you had a good day and every blessing for the next 50 years!

    In Jesus,

  5. Happy Birthday, Sunil, and many apologies for my belated wishes!

    50 is a great milestone – young enough to have the energy, enthusiasm and time ahead to do good things, mature enough to have picked up wisdom along the way.

    I really like your three points, and points one and two are a very powerful, synergistic combination.

    Happy birthday again!


  6. Sunil your writings are not the rambling of an aging man but of a wise man willing to share his heart and mind with others. Sunil what I have seen in you in the last 25 years or so is your loyalty to friends. Your hunger to learn but passion to pass it on. Truely life only makes sense in the context of love and friendships.

  7. I think the sentence that jumped out at me in this blog was ” but at the same time it is vital learn to enjoy the present moment. The time to be happy and thankful is now.” After my recent promotion disappointment I had the realisation that I had fallen into the “I’ll be happy when…..” trap. It was as if gaining promotion would be the holy grail and finally unlock my true happiness, which is obviously a total fallacy. I realised that I am happy now and thankful for what I have now, and that to be grateful and value what you have now is what brings happiness. It’s OK to have aspirations but when they consume you that’s when you fall into the trap and become unhappy.

    1. Well put Karl! Gratitude for what we have now is so important as opposed to thinking that a change of circumstances will then change everything. It might help, but you will still essentially be the same person! From a theological perspective it is seeing how our hearts create idols that we think will give ultimate satisfaction. The problem is that those idols will eventually disappoint. God is the only one who can ultimately satisfy our deepest longings and is worthy of our total devotion.

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