Today our family celebrates something that nearly everyone seems to call a “milestone” for my dad. To tell the truth, I don’t think he’s that excited about it – the “milestone” thing, I mean, not the family gathering.
Milestones don’t really carry the right connotations. They indicate progress on a journey. If life is a journey, it starts spontaneously – as far as we’re concerned – at birth and ends at the same point, location unknown, for all of us (the bit we don’t like to think about, and nor should we). It’s a journey we are in no hurry to complete and signs of “progress” are profoundly unwelcome.
To make matters worse, as we get older, people seem to get increasingly excited about these “milestones”: they go from marking decades to marking every five years until eventually we hear that every year is a “milestone”. It feels like a parking sensor, bleeping with increasing insistence, telling you you’re running out of room. Well, sod off with your “milestones”!
And another thing, how long is this journey? We don’t know. So how can it have any milestones? It has no route-map; there is no timetable. It’s poorly described as a journey – better would be an adventure, expedition, diversion, stroll along the beach, wander in the park; at times a race, an amble, a magical mystery tour.
Milestones are millstones. They exist only in the mind, only because we put them there and attach arbitrary values to them. Those of us involved in helping people plan, save and invest for retirement live with a fraudulent milestone – or, to mix my metaphors on a Sunday, a kind of pensions Ba’al – the notion of a universal retirement age, fixed in the minds from the start. It doesn’t merely need adjusting from 65 to 66 (or 60 if you are French) or any other arbitrary value; it needs destroying. Thanks to idolatry of a milestone, millions will find the journey through retirement more like a stumble across a barren wilderness.
Now, just occasionally, almost certainly beyond these shores, you can chance upon someone who doesn’t know how old they are. It seems extraordinary to us in our data-sodden lives for such a basic piece to be missing; we probably want to laugh. We should instead feel a sense of awe, tinged with pangs of envy. Here is someone with no milestones.