Last week, I turned 40. Erin had already hit 40, six weeks ago (such a cradle robber).
Hitting the big 4-0 hasn’t much bothered either of us. That’s surprising, because we were both rather bothered by our 30th birthdays.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
My friend and colleague Terry said her experiences turning 30 and 40 were similar. “In many ways, my 20s were about the fun life of young adults, and it was sad to see that era end,” she said. “But ever since 30, I’ve grown comfortable with the broader adult life and enjoying friends of a wide range of ages.”
Her observation nails it for me. It’s as if I’d grown up on a beautiful island that I had to leave at age 30. It felt sad to leave paradise. But eventually I discovered the rest of the world of opportunities and great people. Why mourn what’s past, when there is so much ahead?
My Life As a 30-Something
On my 30th birthday, Erin and I had a great marriage, four fun and beautiful kids, and a house on hill (complete with scary mortgage). At work, I had recently been promoted to partner, but I hadn’t figured out how to consistently enjoy my role. I had also tried to launch a few businesses on the side, without long-term success. I had no active hobbies and few close friends; faced with time constraints due to making a living and being an involved dad, I had set aside scuba diving, reading, skiing, time with friends, etc. I had dreams of learning to play guitar, writing a book, achieving a healthy weight, working from home, living closer to the wild, and leading my own business.
From that somewhat uncomfortable position on my 30th birthday, the next decade brought significant growth for me (and hopefully Erin) … including the realization of some of those dreams. For example:
- It slowly dawned on me that perhaps our family was “complete” at four kids. We began leaving the era of pregnancies and babies, and moving into an era of involving kids in hobbies like camping, hunting, and snowsports. (This is not to say that we are now closed to the idea of more children.)
- My sons and I took guitar lessons. I finally was living my dream of learning to play guitar! (I discovered that practicing guitar is the pits for me, and so I’ve moved on from that dream.)
- I (mostly) got partying out of my system. Drinking and dancing can still be fun in occasional, small doses. But I discovered that I get more pleasure and relaxation out of “perfect moments” with friends, physical activity, and quiet moments of reading and writing.
- I launched our consulting firm Aspendale Communications and discovered that it truly is quite nice to be my own boss, including working from home anytime and as much as I like. And I eventually discovered that it’s not Shangri-La, either, and I can being happy working alone or on a team.
- We moved pretty darn close to the wilderness, in a national forest, and discovered that it truly has been quite nice, especially for raising young kids. And I eventually decided that it’s not Heaven, either; and I can be happy living in a suburb or city too.
- Thanks to Erin’s willingness to scrimp and save over several years, we paid off that scary home mortgage. We discovered that it is quite nice to be mortgage-free … and yet that we still need to manage financial worries and stress.
- I eventually discovered that in giving up my all-time favorite hobby (reading), I wasn’t doing my family a favor. Yes, I need to manage myself so that I don’t stay up all night or disappear for an entire weekend consuming the latest page-turner. But the peace, learning, and reflecting that I get from good books is a time investment that makes me a more patient, energetic dad.
- At different times in our 30s, Erin and I have each experienced mid-life pains … and there will likely be more in the future. So far, we’ve learned to embrace and manage these very real feelings, and so far that’s kept them in the category of “mid-life transitions” rather than “mid-life crises.” We take them slowly and yet seriously, we get counsel from books and advisors, we pray, we give each other space, we try to be patient. Most importantly, we try to continue growing together, despite this time of life that naturally seems to draw spouses apart.
Through all these (and many more) ups and downs, the importance of wise family, friends, and advisors speaking into my life has been huge.
(Yes, I am a bit bothered by the undeniable, physical aspects of aging. I’m pretty comfortable with the way I am now, but it’s a little scary to wonder how I’ll look with even more balding, greying, wrinkles, skin blemishes, etc. Looking in the mirror every day is like watching death in slow motion. It scares me a little. I get over it by thinking about the many good things I look forward to in future decades of life and even after-life.)
A Road That Has Made All the Difference?
At 40, do I feel like I’ve “arrived”? Well, I do have hair growing out of my ears … that should count for something. And yet I have the perspective to see all the possibilities that life still offers … and enough experience to know that life can be great whether or not I pursue any or all of those possibilities.
I’ve discovered that some roads ended for me in my 20s. But I’ve discovered many more that I didn’t know about, and there are many more I’ve yet to discover. The roads we choose can make all the difference. Being proactive, avoiding the big mistakes, and yet taking risks are part of leading a life well-lived. And yet I can see that there will always be more forks in the road to choose from.
Turning 40 has given me a lot of peace about what roads I choose to take (or not take) on the journey ahead.
Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast, host of the Game Changer podcast series, and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.