I was first introduced to Nigel Marsh’s books by a friend who told me that Fat, Forty and Fired had changed his life. As soon as he told me the premise: a guy who decides, in the wake of a redundancy, to leave the corporate world, giving up his status and paycheck to spend more time with his family, I knew I had to read it. After all it was the very theme of the novel I was working on which later became Black Cow. I enjoyed the book so much, that I went on to read his next book Overworked and Underlaid. So when Marsh’s new book, Fit, Fifty and Fired Up came out, not too far away from my own impending 50th (and very close to my husband’s), it found its way to the top of my reading stack faster than you can say self-actualisation.
Like the two books that preceded it, Fit, Fifty and Fired Up is deceptively easy. The prose is smooth and often very funny, tracking Marsh’s ongoing progress in making his life meaningful as he once again takes a year off work to renew his sense of self and connect with his family. The simplicity of style makes the medicine easy to take. This is no how-to, point-by-point primer for self-help, though there are 12 summary lessons at the back. Instead, without any hint of didacticism, Marsh’s book makes it very clear that modern priorities are often hideously skewed, focusing on the accumulation of things and ever increasing degrees of slavery in order to live someone’s else’s dream.
Of course there is a lot that is different in this book, and for readers of the other two books, it’s interesting to check in on the progress that Marsh has made in his decade-long transition from a fat, fired 40-year-old (not to mention overworked and underlaid) to a fit, fired-up 50-year-old. For one thing, Marsh is a relatively fit teetotaller, doing annual rough water ocean races (and as someone who occasionally swims in the ocean, I know this is no small achievement) with a reasonably steady lecture circuit (including the moniker of Australia’s most watched TED talk), and two successful books under his belt. As far as progress goes, Marsh’s earlier changes appear to be pretty close to permanent and that alone is interesting for those who have been following his progress through the nonfiction keyhole.
Nevertheless, there are still things he wants to change. For one, he wants to learn to cook, both to ease the pressure on his rather deliciously cynical wife Kate, and to fill what feels to him a significant capability gap. He also wants to lose a little more weight, bump his fitness up a bit more, reconnect with his family, and of course re-ignite his sense of purpose and passion in what he does – something that is difficult to do when mired in a busy work life or tilting at the corporate ladder.
There’s nothing pompous in this book. Instead Marsh just shares his experiences and what he’s learned on his journey in a very down-to-earth, accessible way, as one might do in a conversation with a friend. We share his frustrations in losing weight, his attempts to connect with his father who has Parkinson’s and dementia, his sports, the funny experiences he has with his family. The one overriding quality of this and all of Marsh’s books is how familiar it all is. I suspect that anyone from age 30 onwards will recognise aspects of themselves in Marsh’s journey. While the book will certainly resonate with women, it is perhaps the case that women are less likely to get themselves so thoroughly stuck in the workforce, partly because of maternity leave and the physical changes that having children creates. Still, the parenting stories of soccer games and birthday parties will all hit home and leave any reader at this stage of their lives with multiple children laughing knowingly.
For men though, Marsh’s tale is not only salutary, it’s perfectly pitched, couching some serious life lessons and pointers in witty story. I’m just hoping that if I leave it somewhere obvious (like the bedside nightstand) some of the 12 lessons that the book contains might actually have an impact. That so many men (and some women) live lives of servitude and never stop to think about who they are or what they might want to really achieve in the short space that we have is a modern tragedy. Marsh gently and humorously makes this obvious, and in the changes he’s created in his own life, sets a trend that others can easily follow.