Three Thoughts on Turning 40.
Last week, I got to joke about turning thirty-ten. There were many jokes associated with that birthday arriving, and all sorts of emotional upheavals. Weeks of self-searching, of reminiscing, punctuated by pangs of fear and regret. When the day itself arrived all was fine. Turning 40 is terrifying, but having turned 40 is no big deal. It’s a relief, in many ways.
I don’t yet know much about being in my forties, yet for the benefit of my friends whose thirties are only just starting to recede, here are some things to look forward to, although your mileage may vary:
1. Fully Boring: Life after hope, potential and attention.
Comedian Louis C.K. says it best: Nobody’s going to be proud of you or impressed by you when you’re forty. I believe his words are: “Just do your job, asshole.”
You are no longer young and cute, and you are not yet old and charming. You are at the peak of your abilities and powers, so there’s no reason for anyone else to cut you a break, give you help or encouragement, or go an inch out of their way for you.
That’s fair and fine. It’s a wondrous blessing. There’s not even the pretense of pressure on you anymore. Nobody expects more from you than what you already are, so any wins from this point belong to you alone. And nobody cares if you fail, so you can fail without fear of embarrassment.
You’re past judgement, you’re no longer moldable by anyone, so you finally have full freedom of identity. So go ahead and be what you will. Be yourself, or don’t. Nobody gives a damn.
2. On The Downslope: The future as a countdown.
The main difference, probably, is the switch in perspective that comes from being in the first half of your life, versus the second. Knowing that there no longer is more ahead than behind changes your relationship to time.
For the first time, you know how long it will be. I’m 40 years away from 80, and I know exactly how long that is, even factoring in how much faster time now goes by. I know what can be made to fit in that span of time, and what can’t. I know which dreams will never be, which still may… and for how long.
It radically changes your sense of urgency. Suddenly, things you’ve wanted in life need to happen soon, or never happen. And when you’re looking at the valley below, having left the peaks behind you, you have no qualms about getting what you need along the way. Finality starts asserting itself against morality sometimes. Having death on the horizon can make you want to forget your fellow human sometimes. You’re tempted to become dangerous.
3. If Still It Beats: Accepting the laws of the heart.
At the same time, you should be old enough by now to have realized that love seems to be the only compelling answer. The absurdity of death, of eventual non-being, becomes poignant on this hinge-like birthday. And yes, death is horrible, and senseless, and very real, and unbearable. But somehow loving others makes you forget that, and want to be alive anyway.
So while you now are at your peak of skill and experience, and have no external pressures to bow to, and feel compelled to get your kicks while you still can, you probably also realize that there is a good reason to keep it nice. And that reason is: Love makes you happy. Even though life is now hard-edged, and every smile has a smidge of a cringe, it still feels good, and right, and enough, to hug your friend, kiss your spouse, hold your kid.
It’s less fun and games, less milk and honey ahead. But now you really know how to make the most of it. So smile that slightly weary smile, keep that aching back straight, and do your job, asshole, which includes enjoying life and spreading some love.
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