The dreaded day arrived. I turned 40. With it came all the things people had been warning me about: hard-nosed self-evaluation on four decades of my life, and the fear of having your best years slipping between your fingers. Had I done enough in the past 40 years? Was I prepared for the next 40? Was I happy? Was my family in good hands? Were my best years ahead of me or behind me?
I talk a lot about money in this column – of course. Money is one aspect of wealth, of achievement, of success. As I turned 40, I found my brain contemplating money a lot. And so much more…
When you’re 40, the world doesn’t belong to you anymore.
This is what I realized a few days after my 40th birthday while standing in an indie rock concert, surrounded by hipster larvae half my age. They were all young and beautiful (or no, they were beautiful because they were young, as Margaret Atwood once said) The world belonged to them. The world didn’t belong to this old man, not anymore.
I had once been like them: invincible. Cocksure, cool, always right. I took my chances. I had my moment in the sun. I conquered. I owned the world for a while.
My 40-year-old self reminded me that I had failed too. Made mistakes. Self-destructed. But I learned. I started again. And hey, you know what? I was far from over. I could still take on these kids at their very best. But something subtle had changed. The earth had moved underneath my feet. I wasn’t The Universe’s favorite anymore. And that was okay.
When you’re 40, you belong to a lot of other people.
If anything, there was a reversal that happened somewhere in the last 20 years. The world didn’t belong to me anymore. Instead, I belonged to other people. There was my wife, my children. There was my family, my friends, my work.
The younger me (who the world used to belong to) would have been terrified by this long list of people and things who had some sort of claim on me. But the reverse was true for older me. I am happy to belong to other people. Belonging to someone is the crowning achievement of what has been, so far, a pretty good life. Twenty-year-old me would have had a hard time understanding that.
When you’re 40, you’re not worried anymore.
When you’re 40, you don’t want to be 20. To have the body of a 20-year-old, sure, why not? Who wouldn’t want to be able to drink all night and wake up at 6AM the next day? But then who in their right mind would want to be there at the starting line again, eager, unsure, waiting for life to begin? The thought alone makes me want to climb back into bed and take a long nap.
When you’re 40, you’ve done stuff. You’ve achieved things. You’ve seen the world. You’ve climbed your mountains. You’ve run your marathon. You’ve given birth. You know what you’re capable of. You know that it takes hard work – whatever “it” is. You know what it takes to get the job done. So, yes, when you’re 40, you’re not worried anymore. It’s a good place to be.
When you’re 40, it’s not too late.
When you’re 40, you’re halfway to the finish line. You’ve got 20 more years of work, and 40 more years of life if you’re lucky. Whatever you did with the first 20 years of work and 40 years of life, it’s not too late. You’ve got time.
Money-wise, yeah sure, things like life insurance cost more, but with some smart investments, you can still set yourself up for life. And if you didn’t fudge things up completely, you have much more to work with than you did at the start of it all.
It’s not too late to chase your dreams either, though it must be said that when you’re 40, dreams aren’t such a big deal anymore. You search for meaning, for work that is rewarding. Passions burn lower, steadier, but just as bright, or brighter.
When you’re 40, life’s pretty good.
And so, after the concert, I went home and found a spot in my bed somewhere between my two boys and my pregnant wife. I was 40. The world didn’t belong to me anymore. But I belonged to these four people who depended on me for a whole bunch of things (money, support, love, playtime). But I wasn’t worried about any of that as I crept into the bed. I was in the best place in the world. Even counting the stellar concert, that was the best part of the whole night.
Vince Sales, a self-confessed nerd, is an avid fan of games, tech, movies, and photography. Catch him raving about his latest video game and what gadget he’s been tinkering at his own lair at Third World Nerd.
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Image used under Creative Commons from Will Clayton.