This is it, this is the year when there’s no getting around it, I am firmly and solidly entrenched in my 40s. Just a year ago I turned 40, entering a new decade of life shocked that I was so old. Well, not old, not really, but at one time in my life turning 40 would’ve meant the same as turning 80. Of course now that I’m 41 I understand a little better the subtle nuances of age and how it affects us. Getting older has never really meant that much to me, although I do like to take a moment to pause and reflect, an act that seems more important now than ever. So, if you’ll bear with me, today I want to share some thoughts on getting older, travel and where I see myself in this strange journey called life.
Importance of Personal Challenges
When I turned 40 last year, I took another look at my 40 Before 40 list and revamped it for the years ahead of me. The original 40 Before 40 list was meant to be a series of challenges, both prosaic and life changing, to help me usher in this new decade of life. Once I turned 40 I thought it important to reexamine it, adapt it and use it as a guide moving forward. I’ve sort of done that, but not with the frequency or regularity that I’d like. The truth is that I wrote it and then sort of forgot about it for a while. Luckily, somewhat unplanned, I’ve already ticked off several items on the list but of course have many more to address. But I think this exercise is an important one. It’s important to focus our energies and direct them towards ways in which we can better and improve ourselves. Life is a journey, a continuous education but sometimes it’s important to have a lesson plan to work from.
I’ll accomplish some things, fail at others and probably procrastinate on everything else. But it’s a healthy and I hope productive way to keep moving forward, to keep improving and to keep loving life. With all of this in mind, here are some of the highlights from last year’s (and this year’s) list.
- Do one nice thing for someone else every day
- Interact more with local cultures when I travel
- Go skydiving
- Pay more attention to my health
- Read 5 more books that I’ve been avoiding for years
- Sunbathe along Copacabana beach
- Visit the remaining US states I haven’t visited
- Go on an epic, private, individual trip
- Age gracefully
We Create Our Own Happiness
The concept of happiness is an elusive thing and most of us, if polled, would say that we would be happier if only X, Y or Z were better. The problem is that we oftentimes don’t realize that we are the ones in control of our own happiness, no one else and no other external factors dictate our feelings and emotions.
Very few people wake each morning with a beaming smile, happy to be in that place at that time. Instead, being happy, truly happy, is at times hard. It’s hard raising kids and there are many days when I see parents ready to pull out their hair. But to a one they would say that their kids make them happy beyond all measure. The same holds true in our professional lives. To do things that generate money AND make us truly, honestly happy is hard and most people fail at this balance. In order to achieve it you have to be creative, willing to take risks and above all else you have to be honest with yourself. It’s hard to do this when you have a family and others who depend on you. I believe it’s also a cultural issue, I think it’s much harder for Americans to achieve this balance.
We are taught from a very young age that we must always work as hard as possible, to try to get as much as possible and that eventually it will all lead to happiness. I remember in 2nd grade seeing in the Apple Books catalog a poster with cars, planes and computers on it with the caption that read “The one with the most toys wins.” That’s us, that’s America and it has led to a nation that is dying not from cancer or contagious disease, but heart problems. Stress and poor diet take more American lives than any other ailment – now that’s not what I call happiness.
No, to break free of this mold and to live a purposeful and happy life isn’t easy, but it is well worth it for the sole reason that otherwise we may not live long enough to really enjoy our lives.
This Is The Best Time
It’s cliché and everyone says it, but I really don’t feel 41. I’m not exactly sure what 41 is supposed to feel like, but whatever it is I’m not there. Sure, I have aches and pains, I can’t sleep through the night anymore and being around a group of Millennials wants me to simultaneously pull a blanket over my head and grab the nearest bottle of anything. I remember as a kid looking up to adults, imagining that I could never be as old as they were. It’s shocking to consider that when I was 10 years old, my mom was 35 and my dad was 40. No way that could possibly be true and yet it is. If I had followed a similar path, I’d have a pre-teen living under my roof instead of three Siberian Huskies. But as I look around at my friends, some with kids in high school, the not-so-subtle truth begins to dawn on me that not only am I an adult, I’m a middle-aged adult at that.
But I don’t think my age has ever really defined who I am, so why start now? If I had let age define me, then at 36 I never would have left a good, stable career to do what I do now, whatever that is. I would have thought that surely one’s late 30s is too old to restart one’s life, but thankfully I didn’t think that way. Actually, it’s not too old at all and the rolls of successful people are littered with the names of people who only became well-known after their 40s or even 50s. A few to note include:
Anthony Bourdain – 44 when he published his first book and left the kitchen
Julia Child – 49 when her epic tome “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was first published
Vera Wang – 40 when she opened her first design salon
So if anything, it seems as if I’m entering what will be the best and most productive decade of my life and certainly not the beginning of the twilight years.