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What’s in a birthday? In the grand scheme of things all birthdays are gifts. They’re a reminder you’ve lived another day, another week, another month……..and obviously, another year. Granted, the perspective differs depending on your age. When you’re a kid, birthdays are an expectation. When you’re in your elder years, the gift of each forthcoming birthday likely resonates a bit more significantly.
What about when you’re in the middle or somewhere near the presumed middle of your life? What does a birthday mean then? For me now, birthdays are less about partying and celebrating, and more about introspection. I’m a year older now. What does that mean? Am I in a better place at 42 than I was at 41? Worse? The same? Why or why not?
Looking back, I try to recollect what were key birthdays. You know, milestone years or whatever. Turning 13 (or becoming a “teenager”) meant nothing because it’s 13. It’s that vast pit of middle-school adolescence where you’re not a young adult but you’re not really a little kid anymore either. I think 12-13 is one of the most screwed up ages in our lifespans. God bless you middle school teachers!
Not sure if 18 or even 21 seemed that big of a deal either. Sure, turning 21 meant being able to go to bars and such, but in going off to college I was already exposed to the lifestyle legally designated for 21-year-olds long before I was 21.
Turning 30 was great! I mean it. I loved turning 30. Here’s the thing. You can be smart as hell in your 20s. You can have substantial life experience in your 20s. Yet in some ways the world still looks at you and says, “Ah, you’re only 20-whatever-years-old. You’re a baby!” Yet when you hit 30, all of sudden you’re an undisputed “grown-up.” Granted, you very well could have known just as much at 24, but now you’re a thirty-something. In my experiences it’s almost like people start taking you more seriously.
Then there was 40. I did not like 40. For one, it meant I was over half-way past my expected lifespan. There’s more in the rear view mirror than out the windshield. You start to think, ok, 40 years now. What have I really done? What have I done that’s really mattered? Where are all the things I thought I’d have accomplished by now? Perhaps more telling, “Why haven’t I accomplished those things?”
These are dangerous questions that can lead to painful roads if you let them. One thing about 40 is I think it’s when we first really start to see the landscape picture of our lives come into view. We start (good or bad) seeing how decisions we made in our late teens, 20s, and 30s have affected and influenced where we’re at today.
I thought I’d be more successful in life by now. I hate that my family lives in the same home I bought when I was 25. We don’t still live here because we’re that smitten with the place if you catch my drift. I hate having to explain to my 4-year-old why I can’t buy him everything he wants. I hate that I can’t take my family on vacations and go to nice places just because. I know I’m not alone in this regard. A lot of folks I know can sing a similar song, but it still sucks sometimes.
Professionally, I think I’ve worked so hard in life at “not failing” that I’ve never attempted to really succeed at anything. I guess I’m at the age where it’s time to get used to 25 more years of the same, or gear up to take a shot at something. The window ain’t getting larger. I know this. What I’m looking for out that window I’m not entirely sure. I suppose if I knew then maybe I’d already be doing it.
In closing, what does 40-something mean to me? On a personal level I think the past few years have been a rebirth for me. I’ve had several life-changing experiences: The birth of a son, sobriety, our miscarriage of a child, and blessedly the birth of another son. When I look in the mirror I see a grateful guy quite happy being the best husband and father he can be. Though I didn’t always like the guy staring back at me in the past, I like this guy.