I’ve known many people who wring their hands over the birthdays that end in zero. They’re milestones of getting old, after all. But none of them have bothered me so far — certainly not 20, but also not 30, not 40.
Some odd birthdays have troubled me unexpectedly. 33 was tough. I felt I couldn’t avoid anymore that I was firmly in my adult years. I wasn’t sure I always liked it.
Last year’s birthday, 47, hit me hard too. To my surprise, because my middle years have been the best of my life. But where 46 was “middle aged,” 47 felt like “pushing 50,” and something about 50 feels more old than middle aged. I’m sure that if you’re significantly older than 50, you’re chuckling over that statement. But it got me down for a bit.
I’m good with it now. And if 47 is “pushing 50,” 48 is on the downhill slide, hurtling headlong, picking up speed. Look out, I’m throwing in the clutch.
I’ve loved my 40s. They’ve been the happiest years of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
That’s not to say I’m a happy person. My natural happiness set point is on the low side and I have a melancholic temperament. I tend to experience deeply the things in the present that aren’t as I’d have them. I find joy to be fleeting and often difficult to embrace.
But when I look back, I see the bigger picture: I’ve had a great run in my fifth decade. I’ve achieved emotional health. I’ve done really well in my career. I have developed hobbies that make my heart sing. I have built strong personal relationships, especially with my sons.
And I am optimistic for the future. Sure, I can see how my body is aging and my health is different now. I’m seeing younger people coming up fast in my career – I’m starting to work for people who were in diapers when I entered college. My prime is ending. But I expect to adapt and keep growing in maturity. I expect to find that to be supremely satisfying.
When I was on the cusp of 40, the mother of an old friend told me that her 40s were her favorite years. “I had good health as when I was younger,” she said, “but my career had hit its stride and so I finally had the money to enjoy it.”
I’m 46 today, which places me well into the back half of my middle decade, It turns out that my friend’s mom was right. But more than that, my 40s have brought maturity and peace. I wouldn’t trade those for one minute of being twentysomething again. Bring on the graying temples.
When I was in my 20s I used to look at the older guys at work – the guys in their 40s, with their receding hairlines and expanding waistlines – and shudder, and try not to think about my eventual fate.
Yesterday was my 45th birthday. Fate has a way of catching up with you.
Except that I like being this age. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my 20s – you couldn’t drag me back there kicking and screaming.
It doesn’t hurt that somehow I still have all of my hair and that I weigh only about ten pounds more (and my friends tell me I was too skinny in those days). But more than that, I have the maturity and wisdom to handle challenges that baffled me 20 years ago. I am much more peaceful and content.
That’s not to say 45 is all wine and roses. I have bigger problems now than I did in my 20s, mostly because I chose to have children. (Bless their little hearts.) Providing for them and making sure they’re well and loved has challenged me in ways I never could have imagined, even if you had told me.
My body has changed, too. I used to have a blast-furnace metabolism. I know I was unusually blessed, but I really could eat pretty much anything I wanted in any quantity with no consequences. No more! If I don’t limit my intake, soon I can’t button my pants. Also, the foods I choose now have a direct and often immediate effect on how good I feel. So my diet has shifted from pizza and cheeseburgers to fish and chicken, fruits and vegetables.
I can’t run as hard and as long as I did then, either. I used to stay out with friends until 2 am, sleep a few hours, get to work by 8 am, and have plenty of energy for the day. Now I turn into a pumpkin at 10 pm and if I don’t get at least six hours of sleep, preferably seven or eight, I’m a zombie.
But I find the tradeoffs to be more than fair. So far, my 40s have been my best decade so far.
A few recent college graduates just joined the company where I work. I’ve been working longer than they’ve been alive! But if my experience is typical, their best is two decades ahead of them.
This may be my best decade, but the pinnacle of my career happened when I was in my 30s. Read that story.
Friday was my 44th birthday. A few days before, a young woman at work who joined us just after graduating college this year proudly announced that it was her 22nd birthday. It reminded me that I turned 22 shortly after being hired into my first job after college – and that therefore I’ve been working in software development more than half my life. Holy frijoles!
But I’m cool with that. I wouldn’t be 22 again for all the tea in China because the intervening 22 years have brought such maturity and confidence. As a matter of fact, my 22nd birthday taught me a lesson that helped me grow up a little.
It was standard practice in our office that when someone had a birthday someone brought a cake and someone decorated the break room and we all knocked off for a half-hour or so in the afternoon to celebrate. I don’t like having a fuss made over me, and so I deliberately didn’t mention my upcoming birthday. On the day itself I thought I had successfully dodged all the attention, but I didn’t count on Freda. She was my boss’s administrative assistant – in those days, first-level managers still had admins to to answer the phone, type memos, and keep the schedule, as nobody had voice mail, e-mail, or electronic calendars. She prided herself on taking care of the entire department. I guessed later that when I was hired she probably handled my job application, which showed my birth date. She bought a cake, decorated the break room, and invited everyone in to surprise me.
I was mortified! But I didn’t want to hurt Freda’s feelings, so I put on a thin smile and went along. I did my best to be polite as people wished me a happy day and as some of the guys in their 40s (which seemed like an advanced age to me then) expressed their jealous astonishment at my youth. But I didn’t want to be there, and it probably showed a little.
I, I, I, I, I. Ay yi yi. But as people laughed and talked over that cake and coffee that afternoon, I saw how they enjoyed this short break from our hard work. It dawned on me that this celebration was as much about my co-workers enjoying each others’ company as it was about my birthday. To think I would rather have denied them this brief pleasure. I felt embarrassed about my attitude, and I determined that from now on I would be man enough to give of myself for everyone else’s enjoyment. I even said so to Freda. And so on my 22nd birthday I became a little less self-absorbed.
I’ve known I wanted to make software since I was a teenager. But without a course in public speaking, I never would have had the opportunity. Read that story.
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