This past weekend one of my friends had a 40th birthday party which we attended. Today, yet another of my friends has hit that milestone. This year has seen a lot of that. Next year, there will be many more – including myself. It seems to be the age that most people have the hardest time reaching.
People think about where they are in life and compare it to where they thought they would be. For most people, this is not a good idea. Having a beautiful home, with a doting spouse and over-achieving, well-behaved children as well as a successful career and no serious health problems is a tall order. Let’s not forget, we also want back our flat tummies and perky breasts and full heads of non-gray hair.
Apparently, 40 is the age at which most people feel like they have turned a corner and are now closer to old age and death than they are to youth and opportunity.
At 40, people appear to focus more on what they are lacking than on what they have achieved. They focus on their “failures”.
I’m not dreading my next birthday – But I’m not going to say I am immune to some of the emotions around turning 40.
Since I have been surrounded by so much 40th birthday talk lately, I’ve been thinking about how I want to deal with my own when it comes. I don’t want it to be about superficial things like my lack of closet space in a too-small townhouse. I’ve been thinking about the last 40 years and the way I lived them. I’ve been thinking about what I want the rest of my life to look like and most importantly, what I want the lasting memory of me to be once I kick the bucket.
I had a happy childhood. Not perfect. But happy. Despite the overall happiness, I had some emotional baggage that I carried around. I think any child who is not raised by their biological parents carries some baggage, no matter how good their guardians are.
After high school I left everything I had ever known and fell into a situation that was not at all healthy. I would describe it as toxic. They did not bring out the best in me. I could have done some things differently to make it better, but I was young and inexperienced and incredibly sad and lonely and I did not feel comfortable. Was it hard for them, having a teenager they barely knew thrust upon them? Sure. Probably. Was it hard for me, leaving my home and friends and being forced to live a life that was totally foreign to me and doing it with no support? Sure was. I fell apart pretty epically.
I spent my 20’s trying to figure out myself. I had some fun. Traveled a little bit. Tried different styles of dressing and had a couple different groups of friends. I did a few people wrong along the way. I thought I had been wronged and I was angry and resentful and selfish. I didn’t feel grounded or attached to anything or anyone. I was in relationships that left me feeling used or unfulfilled. I used and hurt people. My credit was bad. At one point I had given up on life; (what was the point of it all?); and I had no-one I could go to for help.
My 30’s were all about rebuilding – in every way. I had a lot of work to do. I had children now that I needed to do right by. I needed to be better. I picked my head up, made some hard decisions and took one step at a time. I accepted what really was and stopped dwelling on what I hoped was. I had had enough knock downs and bumps and bruises to propel me toward a better future. I was ready.
Now that my 30’s are winding down; do I feel like I made all the progress that I had hoped to make? Not at all. But do I feel like I am a better person now? A more stable person? A happier person?
As I near 40, I finally know who I am and I’m comfortable with who I am. I am still a work in progress. I take responsibility for my role in all my bad relationships and I am looking forward to leaving the world better than I found it. That’s what I will spend whatever time I have left doing. Trying to not only improve myself but also making other people feel like I bettered their life somehow. I want people to think happy things when they think of me. I’m going to be even more positive and even more uplifting and even more kind. I am going to buy the $15 bag of popcorn from Boy Scouts when I see them standing, in the cold, in front of Lowes. I am going to embrace all the hard lessons I have learned up till now and use them to make the next 40 (or whatever) years of my life the best years yet.