40 isn’t what it used to be. It used to be a milestone that represented the end of youth. None of the biological factors involved in the scariness of 40 are tied to chronological age anymore. People over 40 are having babies and running marathons. Between breast implants, hair implants, and tooth bleaching, it can be hard to tell how old someone is. All that’s left for my fellow citizens of Los Angeles County is a way to get rid of liver spots, and we’re golden.
I’m freaking out over turning 40 today because it’s the turning of a decade. My odometer is rolling. I get wound up over New Year’s Eve in much the same way. Strategic review should happen on a regular basis; otherwise, all we get is entropy, happenstance, and unintentional outcomes. Very few excellent things happen by accident. They do – leave room for serendipity – but almost everything that is really awesome is the outcome of planning, focus, and concentrated effort. Most of it also takes significant time investment over the long term.
When I was 10, I thought sugar would solve all my problems. The only things I really wanted out of life were cartoons, pizza, privacy, and my own unicorn. I thought I was going to be an architect.
When I was 20, I thought romance would solve all my problems. The only things I really wanted out of life were true love, a more interesting job, and a better apartment. I thought I was going to teach ESL overseas.
When I was 30, I thought money would solve all my problems. The only things I really wanted out of life were financial independence and to go paperless. I thought I was going to be a civil servant.
Now I’m turning 40 and I know money will solve all my problems! I can have everything I ever wanted at age 10, and I basically do have everything I ever wanted at 20 and 30, except the financial independence part. I probably won’t be an architect, unless I build my own tiny house one day, but I could go and teach English or work as a civil servant next week if I like. I’ve reached a place where yearning and fantasizing about the future isn’t so much a mental escape as a possible to-do list.
One of the benefits of age is competence. As we get older and more experienced, we understand how to go about doing things. Problems that laid us flat when we were young are routine and obvious now. We know when to look for a better job, when to end relationships, when to go home and go to bed, when we’ve overdone it. We have resumes full of practical skills, from soothing a crying baby to hosting Thanksgiving to planning weddings. We have a solid sense of how long things take, how much they cost, and who is likely to show up.
The thing is that time is running out. The sands are pouring through the hourglass. At 40, we know there is a limited window of opportunity to do the things we “always wanted” that we thought we’d have a million years to do when we were young.
I always wanted to have flat abs. I’ve had flat abs since last year, and I admire them every morning.
I always wanted to have time to cook a hot breakfast every morning. Now I do.
I always wanted to have a newspaper column. I decided to write a blog instead.
I always wanted to run a marathon. I did.
I always wanted to learn a foreign language. Now I can mostly read the news in German and French.
I always wanted to be a birdwatcher. Of all things. Now I add a few birds to my life list every year.
I never particularly wanted to be a rock star or a model or a professional athlete. As it happens, I have sung in front of a crowd that held up their lighters for me and I once earned $80 as a plus-size runway model. Life is weird. Next thing I know, I’ll be getting paid to participate in a sporting event. The thing about planning is not so much to lock ourselves into a rigid sense of How Things Ought to Be, but simply to steer in a desirable direction. We want to leave room for the fascinating interludes that make for the best stories. What we don’t want to do is to let the years slip past, one day like the next, until our time is gone and it’s too late to do the things we always wanted to do.
We know neither the day nor the hour. I intend to make the most of the time I have before me anyway. I’m planning to see the Northern Lights, for starters. I want to look back on my 50th birthday and feel that the decade from 2015-2025 was at least as amazing as the one from 2005-2015.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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