On my 60th birthday, this is what I wish I knew 30 years ago

Jenna Price.
Jenna Price. Photo: Facebook

I thought I'd be dead by now. Bad genes, worse expectations. Instead, if you are reading this, I'm not dead.

I'm wide awake on the morning of April 10, 2017, my 60th birthday, in the middle of an unexpected life.

At 60, I'm still working. Two jobs really. Teaching, writing. Plus, being a student. Volunteering. Being a lover, a mother, trying to be a good friend. Hardly ever switching off. Getting slightly irritated at those who tell me to chill. Just chill.

Jenna Price submits her Masters in 2013.
Jenna Price submits her Masters in 2013.  

And if you are in your 30s or 40s, this column is my birthday gift to you. You have - at least - 30 years of work ahead of you. The desperate need to succeed by your current age is a trace, a remnant of a time when most people were dead - or at least incapacitated - by the time we got to the age I am now.

Instead, you are all going to live to be 100, you will all still be working until at least 70 and your darling children will be expecting you to look after their kids so your own offspring can go to their important jobs.

While all that's happening, you will have the best job of your life because you can actually pay attention to the work instead of just paying the mortgage, dealing, rushing, the quotidian grind.

I wish I'd known 30 years ago.

I wish I'd known I'd still be working hard and seizing my chances. But I was in such a panic about all the things I wanted to do, and to do them there and then. One minute I'd be thrilled to get a job editing a particular section of the Herald. The next I'd be devastated that someone else got there before me. Younger. Smarter. Or maybe just male.

All that time in my 30s and 40s, I felt like time was running out, life was passing. That if I didn't do all the things I needed to do at work – instantly - I'd be a failure. And then I'd die.

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In my mid-30s, with three kids under six, I thought my professional career was over. I'd moved sideways into a job with less money and more flexibility and thought, that's it. The mummy track. But I realise now our working lives are so long, so much longer than our parents' were, that the track wanders everywhere and you run along too.

Sometimes it's a side track, sometimes a fast track. And it will change beneath your feet depending on what you need and what you give. You will have many career highs and as many lows and that should give you comfort.

You get more chances this way and it is glorious. I would have gloried in it just a little more instead of panicking.

Jenna Price speaks at the International Women's Day march in 2016.
Jenna Price speaks at the International Women's Day march in 2016. 

I'd like to give younger women a gift and that's the gift of knowing that there is time, so much time and not everything needs to happen at once. We all need a longer game plan. Time is not running out. It is just running.

My generation of Australian women is the first to work all the way through, and you will be following. It's not part-time, discretionary work. It's the work of paying mortgages hand in hand with our partners, if we still have them. Or it's paying the mortgage (or rent) entirely by ourselves if we don't.

In 1992, when I was in my mid-30s, nearly half of all women had retired from full-time work by the age of 45. Just a few women, maybe 10 per cent, were still working after 60.

But research from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research at the University of Melbourne now shows us that 45 per cent of women aged 60-64 were in the labour force in 2013 – that's a 300 per cent increase over two decades. Such a huge change so quickly. And I certainly won't be giving up work unless I am forced to or unless I can somehow miraculously pay off the mortgage.

The truth is, I like working. A lot. And it's better now that I'm not trying to juggle. The list of what we juggle is so cumbersome it doesn't bear repeating, but we all have our way of managing, and part of that should be remembering that this too shall pass. The sobbing babies. The last minute Easter hat parade. The grinding burden of children doing the HSC. The intensity of trying to stay together, remembering that you love each other but near broken by stress.

All that attention. All that energy. It pours straight into my work now. Ferocious.

We have time to play this out. It doesn't all have to happen at once.

I don't really have regrets, but I would like to have realised much earlier that even the unwell among us could live to 75, 85, 95.

Ninety-five. That's how old my mother-in-law will be in August this year. On Thursday night, she toasted my birthday and said: "You are two-thirds of the way there."

And that was the strangest feeling when she said that.

Another 30 years. I have a lot to do, and this time I'm in no hurry.

Twitter: @JennaPrice

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