Turning Forty - What Does it Feel Like to Reach Your Fortieth Birthday?
This is an article for anyone about to turn 40, who is wondering with trepidation just where all the time has gone. I wrote it from my own experience, as I share my own feelings of what it means to me, a woman about to hit the big '40'. Not many of us hits this point in our lives without any thoughts at all, whether positive or negative. Some of us dread it, some of us plan a big celebration and some of us look behind and wonder what happened to the careless freedom that was youth. Yet others might be more accepting, and truly feel that it is just a number, or that life may even be beginning. After all, we've all heard the saying, "Life Begins at 40"... And why not?
Help, I'm nearly 40!
Firstly, I would just like to point out that I am not actually forty. As of this moment I am, in fact, thirty-nine years and five months. However, the big '4 0' is certainly looming in the distance. A lot of people I know are turning forty this year. Turning thirty was fun - I didn't mind that at all. Thirty still has a ring of 'youth' about it - sort of. But forty....well, that doesn't sound young at all.
Maybe it does to some people. Those who have already sailed the seas of forty-something and moved on to pastures beyond. And don't get me wrong - I am not of the theory that forty is old at all. Not when I really think about it. In my family there are people who really are old - even one relative who is about to receive a telegram from the Queen. 100 is old. 90 is old. 80 is getting on a bit. 40, in comparison, is a spring chicken just hatched.
40 is a Mid-Way Point
Still, there is no getting away from it. 40 is one of those birthdays that, for many people, does not pass by quietly unnoticed. It sort of stops you in your tracks and nudges you, whispering in your ear 'Nearly 40, hey? Well, how's life going then? Is it all turning out the way you wanted?'
Whilst it is true that forty may not be old (except in the minds of your tactless and unmerciful children), to me it still feels like a mid-way point. When I was younger, it seemed as though my future stretched out ahead of me, so long that I couldn't even see the end of it. There was so much room for dreams; for plans; for anything to happen. There was no real sense of urgency, just a hopeful trust that everything would turn out just the way I wanted it. I would have a dream career - something special, not a run-of-the-mill job that everyone does. I always wanted to be a writer, from the age of eight or so, and I never doubted that it would happen. I saw a family - at least two children. A nice house. No money worries. Travel to every corner of the globe. I thought all of this was simple and easily attainable. Just the naïve optimism of youth. I suppose I thought that life happens easily. Now, though, I have learned that sometimes it doesn't.
Looking Back and Looking Forward
Heading towards my fortieth birthday, I feel relatively happy with my life. However, it is not terribly difficult to imagine why some people might choose this point to sink into a midlife crisis. At forty, the stretch ahead, whilst hopefully still long, is not as long as it once was. Rather than having one's whole life ahead, now there is only half of it. A sense of urgency prevails. Procrastination is less of an option. If you have a dream and you haven't done much about it yet, you had better get a move on or else erase it from your list. At forty, you can look back and wonder where the time went. At forty, you really do know that life doesn't last forever.
At almost forty, there are certain things in my life that I really want to achieve, yet so far haven't. Does it matter? It some ways, perhaps not. Deep in my heart, I think that perhaps the only thing that truly matters in life is how much you love; how much caring and kindness you show. Love is the very essence of human life. Yet we all have other dreams and passions as well - things that help us to feel fulfilled and whole. And I know that should I arrive at the end of my life without having achieved certain goals, I will feel a sense of disappointment at what might have been. When you live with a passion inside you, yet do nothing about it, it can feel as though something is missing.
Forty can be a time of looking back, to those days of youthful optimism, and wondering where it all went - yet it can also be a time to look forward. Life can certainly begin at 40. Why not? Every day is a new beginning; a chance to set off on another path. Besides, no matter how hopeful and optimistic you might have been in your twenties, you are likely to have bucketfuls more confidence at forty. When you are forty, you are somewhere in the middle. You can relate more easily to both the young and the old alike. Nobody thinks you are too immature to know what's what. No one is too old to seem unapproachable. You have been places and done things, you have experiences behind you. You may have a family, that you can nuture with love and with pride. Hopefully, there is already much to look back on and celebrate, be it personal relationships, career success or vocational achievements. Not only that, but as one grows older it is often easier to be yourself. Confidence in yourself as a person allows you the freedom to break away from the 'sheep' mentality. You can ignore fashions and trends to your heart's desire, without feeling that you don't fit in with your peers. You can be proud to be the person that you are.
Of course, 40 is just a number. A number like any other. On its own, it is meaningless. However, as I approach my fifth decade of life, it is hard not to have any thoughts about it at all. For me, it is almost like a check point; a moment to reflect. It is also a bit like a kick up the backside, as I consider those things I always hoped I would do, but so far haven't. I don't know why I haven't, given the serious amount of time that has passed. All I can say is, sometimes life just plods by while you have your eyes half shut. In any case, it's never too late - and it is always better to try to fail than live with regret. Forty is a time to let go and live, to celebrate what you already have, to really be who you are and stay true to yourself. To head into the second half of the show with optimistic exuberance.