I am down to the very last hours of my third decade on this earth. Soon I will enter the fourth.
I was out with a friend Friday night to whom I admitted I was having a hard time with this whole turning 40 thing. She asked what it was that was so hard. I had a difficult time articulating it but I think the main thing I was trying to say is that at 40, you start to have a keen understanding of what it is to become older. Those life decisions you put off in your 30s are now approaching deadlines, whether they are real or perceived. You also have a keen understanding of the possible repercussions of each and every life choice.
Turning 30 was easy. I don’t remember having any panic attacks that woke me up in the middle of the night with the force of a ton of bricks on my chest, or lying awake second guessing myself and thinking of every what-if scenario.
Thirty was a milestone, to be sure. But to me, turning 30 meant gaining respect you fail to get as a 20-something. At 30, you are no longer an eager, fresh-out-of-college graduate happy to make enough to pay the rent and have a few dollars left for the occasional happy hour. Being in your 30s means you have a few years under your belt so you can be paid a little bit more. You can buy adult furniture for your apartment, go on the occasional vacation and stay in a hotel as opposed to a youth hostel and you could not only go to the occasional happy hour but even buy the occasional round of drinks. I remember a friend joking once that being 30 meant you hire a moving company. You don’t have your buddies move you for the promise of a case of beer and a large pizza.
You could reach these levels of maturity but without the pangs of OH MY GOD, I’M OLD. Being 30 is still a very youthful age. One in which you start to think about life decisions but aren’t under pressure to reach any final answers.
At 30 you can start weighing whether or not you want kids, but you don’t have your gynocologist telling you that you better make a decision before the decision is made for you. You can easily change careers because, at 30, you have more years left to work than you have even been alive. You can borrow against your 401k to help buy a house because you have plenty of time to replenish the money.
Like I told my friend Friday night, you start to realize that at 40, you are approaching the halfway mark of a typical lifespan. You regret not making some decisions sooner. Or you second guess other decisions because you are losing the option to change your mind. For example, you don’t have the luxury of a decade to weigh the kids thing. In a very short time your ovaries will be shriveled and dried up, or your relationship will permanently be locked in on its childless status after years of the status quo. And OH MY GOD, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE ALONE, a realization that didn’t occur to you before.
You don’t have the luxury of casually deciding to change careers because you need to continue putting money in to your 401k, otherwise, OH MY GOD. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE ALONE … AND BROKE.
You realize that the last 20 years have just flown by and in that same amount of time, you’re going to be 60 and OH MY GOD. YOUR PARENTS WILL BE REALLY REALLY OLD IF NOT GONE BY THEN. YOU’RE GOING TO DIE ALONE, BROKE AND AN ORPHAN. Then your mind wanders on what will remain once you’re gone. You realize there’s a good chance all of the things handed down to you from your parents and the generations before them will end up in a landfill or garage sale and nothing tying you to your family tree, or even earth in general, will remain.
Yes, apparently being 40 makes you dramatic. But these are the things that keep me up at night. I’m trying to be positive, or at least less negative. I really am. I remember saying so many times that no one should live with regrets. I see now that that is something a 20-something says; 40 years olds are haunted by regrets.
When I try to step away from the hyperbole, I think about how much happened over the past decade, despite it going so fast. I got married, I became a marathon runner, I became a home owner, I became a godmother twice, I turned a layoff into an opportunity and made some pretty smart career moves, I built up my 401k, I made some fabulous friends and traveled to some amazing places. There are way too many good memories to count, but my mind can’t remain on the positives. It always goes back to the negative.
If what they say is true about things getting better with age, I am kind of anxious to look back 10 years from now and take stock of what I accomplished and did in my 40s. But I also dread the inevitable anxiety of being another decade older. I want to keep reminding myself of a quote I have seen repeated many times that goes something like: You only regret the chances you don’t take in life.
I want my 40s to be the decade of taking chances and doing things outside my comfort zone. Why not try new things, I’ve already convinced myself I am going to die alone anyway so the potential outcome of trying new things seems less scary in comparison. 🙂