Contentment is something that I have rarely experienced when it comes to my study of the natural world. When I first picked up a pair of binoculars and started looking at birds I had a burning need to get out there and try and see everything there was to be seen. Nothing was ever enough. There was always more to seek. More to identify. More to write down.
As I gained experience I felt the need to be accepted by the others who persued my interests. I wanted them to look upon me a not just competent, but good at what I did. I wanted a reputation as someone who was reliable. Who found rare things. Who was able to act as an expert. These things I strived for, but of course never satisfied myself that I ever achieved. So I pushed myself harder, went out of my way to infiltrate and ingratiate within the right circles, tried to be seen in the right places at the right time.
But I was never destined for greatness. Was never a real contender. A career, a marriage, having children, they all became the focus of my waking hours and relegated the 'other stuff' to a weekend daliance, to infrequent holidays, to a dream of 'what might have been'.
What might have been.
I think I know what might have been, and that is, if truth be told, not a lot. I didn't have the killer instinct in me, and I never have had. There would have been no crazy flights in chartered light aircraft to remote Scottish islands to get a tick. There never would have been dawn til dusk vigils at headlands for seven days a week either. I wouldn't have dropped everything to go to Essex to see the latest dragonfly addition to the British list. Or hunted all of the Herefordshire beechwoods to track down that Ghost Orchid. I wouldn't have spent the hours and hours of study to become an expert in grasses and sedges and rushes. I would have baulked at sorting out the many, many beetles and flies.
So why am I now content? It's because I now know that I have stopped fooling myself that I am in some way a 'player' in the world of natural history. I've been kidding myself for too long that I was in self-imposed exile, biding my time and waiting to be unleashed once more into the field, to take on all comers and ride triumphantly back into the natural history world. I may be a middle-aged man, but I was still dreaming of scoring that last-minute goal in an FA Cup final, of hitting the winning run in an Ashes series, of playing a killer guitar solo at Glastonbury, of collecting an oscar as leading man in LA - or even finding a first for Britain.
It isn't going to happen and I'm happy and relaxed about that. What I do now and how I do it, I am happy with. If I stumble upon something unusual then great! If I can share it with others, then all the better. If I cock up an identification, so what? I have, for too long, pressurised myself in my interests. To accept that I have never been a contender is liberating. It's a shame that my immaturity has meant that I have come to that conclusion thirty years later than I should have done.