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40 T/D/Y #40: 40 Years Old

Forty years ago, on December 31, 1969, at 7:14 AM, I was born. I come from two families of long-lived people, and I have a reasonable expectation of living into my eighties or nineties, but even so it’s reasonable to say that today I’ve become middle-aged.

I don’t feel middle-aged. For years I’ve generally been the oldest among my friends, and I’ll often complain of or remark upon being old. But the truth is, I feel young. The other day, when I told one of my newer friends that my fortieth birthday was coming up, he said in sincerity that he thought I didn’t look a day over 33. When I’m out at a good concert or having a fun time elsewhere, I feel more like 23. When I think about my efforts to find a romantic relationship, I feel more like I’m still stuck at 13. When I consider some of my bad habits such as avoiding the job search I loathe or my constant general procrastination, I wonder if I ever aged past three. Most of the time though, I do feel like I should still be in my mid-twenties, like I couldn’t have spent more than a year after college floundering my way toward a career, and my time from starting to work in Boston through moving to Seattle and establishing this new phase of my life must’ve been only a year or two at most. Surely my thirties must still be several years away, or at most my friend must be right and I must still be 33.

I don’t feel middle-aged because I clearly still have so many things to do. I don’t have a stable career yet or steady income. I’m still scrabbling to figure out what I should be doing and to find work. I haven’t had a long-term romantic relationship yet. I haven’t been back to visit Europe—at least, not since visiting my younger sister in Germany in 1996—or maybe gone on to visit other parts of the world. I have friends I’ve never visited in their homes, and friends online that I’ve never even met in person. I have game design ideas to develop, books to read, music to hear, essays to write, photos to take.

I don’t feel middle-aged because I clearly still have so much to learn. How to find and carry on a long-term romantic relationship. How to overcome my flaws and make the career I want. How to cook better meals. More about the music I love, and the music I don’t care for as much. More about the page layout work I’d like to do. More about the city where I live, the friends I’ve made, the family I come from, the world in general.

I don’t feel middle-aged because I clearly still have a young spirit. I still have a fascination with and wonder at the many things in the world. I still have a whimsical sense of humor. I still take simple delight in a great song, a well-designed graphic, tasty tasty chocolate chip cookies, cool new technology, dancing, purring cats, a heroic tale, Star Wars, Lego toys, a clever turn of phrase, the futuristic feel and architectural design of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport where I’m currently writing this.

But I am middle-aged, and I’m not sure whether that makes a difference in my life. I do believe I have to take more thought for my future, because there’s not as much left as when I was young. I’m still worried about monthly expenses when I should be well into saving for retirement. I’m also worried about how to shape my career, how to find and keep doing work I’m interested in and still earn an adequate income, not be held back by false expectations of what I should be doing—mine or others’.

Because that’s another part of being middle-aged: recognizing what I am and what I am not, what I can change, what I should change, and what is fine the way it is. I’ve always been a procrastinator and a night owl; how necessary is it to change those traits? how realistic is it to think I can change those traits? how much can I mitigate them or work around them? I’ve never been much good at finding romance; I have been working to improve that, but a large part of that change involves understanding myself better and being cool with myself, so that I can let a relationship develop naturally. I wrote about being voted “most likely to succeed” and still not knowing, 24 years later, what success even means; but I recognize that “success” is not a singular condition of my life as a whole, it’s the state of being satisfied that I’ve done what I set out to achieve, and without definite goals to pursue, I can’t have success either.

Generally speaking, I feel each new decade of my life has made me happier. I had plenty of happy times as a child, but I was happier as a teenager when I outgrew being tormented by the tauntings of others. The new freedoms of being an adult and choosing how to spend my time made me happier in my twenties than in my teens, particularly once I finally started on a career path toward the end of that decade. Overall, I feel my thirties have been a great decade of personal growth and happiness. Moving first to Boston and then to Seattle, developing some great new circles of friends, building a career as a technical editor, buying a home, helping to found and run a gaming convention, volunteering for KEXP, writing about music, finding a little romance… all of these things have been very good for me, even (perhaps especially) when not as successful as I hoped or wanted.

The last two years of my thirties have been very challenging, sometimes painfully so, and I have not always risen to the challenges. Although the circumstances have sometimes been beyond my control, such as the serious economic downturn, I’ve disappointed myself in how I handled the challenges. Particularly with work and finances, I’ve been in a very precarious situation all year and still find it difficult to see or pursue a way out of my difficulties. I’ve tended to rely on the vague belief that it will all work out, and managed to be lucky. At the age of 40, I feel I should do better, be better, than that. That said, I never quite give up hope, either, that I can change, I can do and be better. And for all that I feel I did not measure up to some challenges, I realized that this year I met some older goals: going out on dates, getting my concert reviews out to a wider audience, writing for the KEXP Blog, getting back into desktop publishing work.

I declared 2007 the “Year of Change”, but really it’s been a whole decade of change, sometimes quick, often gradual. 2009 was often rough, filled with anxiety and fear and drama and dismay, but it also had good things both old and new, and good times, and new opportunities, and hope and happiness. I’m middle-aged and I’m still young. Today, I am 40 years old.



( 1 wrote — Write )
Jan. 20th, 2011 10:43 pm (UTC)
Your journal
Hi Phil, I just finished reading the last entry. I've read several this week alone. They are very interesting and touching. You bravely bared your soul in so many ways. I don't know if I could do that. I think that overall you don't give yourself enough credit. So, I'm going to assign you a goal for your 41st year: believe in yourself and in your abilities. You are a wonderfully warm and sociable person. Don't believe me? Look at all the friends you have. How many people can say that they have so many true and loyal friends? You mentioned in one entry a plan to design some apps for the iPad. I remember you spoke to me about this once. Go for it! Someone is going to do it. Why not you? As far as romantic relationships, I firmly believe that there is someone out there that you just haven't met yet. In the meantime, relax and spend time with people whose company you enjoy. You're number one in my book, but I'm just a bit prejudiced.
( 1 wrote — Write )
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