There are certain events in our lives that we pause to commemorate. We often call these milestones and they can vary from doing something new to achieving something great. We might recognize these events in different ways. They could serve as a marker of development, such as learning to walk or talk. They could be a thing to celebrate such as a graduation or a new job. Or they could be a transition point in our lives – such as earning your driver’s license , getting married or having a child. Or, most importantly, they could be a time in our lives to stop and reflect on where we have been and where we are going.
Today is one of those days in my life. I turn forty years old today. Forty has always been one of those birthdays that seem to have more meaning attached to them. I don’t think it’s just because it has a zero at the end of it. We don’t say you are turning the “Big 3-0”. And it’s not because we are particularly old, outliving most of our friends. I think it’s because it marks the beginning of the second half of our lives and therefore defines “middle aged.” I think it is also important because it is a time when people look back on their lives and often define themselves by what they have accomplished to this point. It can be a time for angst – “Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing?”. It can also be a time for yearning for the past and for youth. This is why so many men “trade in” their wives for a younger model or purchase a convertible sports car. And for women, it can signify the closing of their child bearing years.
It’s also a time of looking forward. We wonder where our lives will be taking us and who will be a part of that.
Turning forty has caused me to reflect on all of these things. I realize that I have as many years ahead of me as I do behind me, but there is a small sensation of loss. My body will never be as resilient as it was. I’ll probably never be as physically fit as I have been in the past. I’ll never experience again the formative experiences of my past. However, at the same time, I have so many new experiences to look forward to – growing and sustaining a healthy business, watching my children blossom into adulthood and have their own children and the unknown adventures that lie around the corner.
Leading up to forty, I wondered if I would have the prototypical midlife crisis. I wondered if what I am doing is important enough or lasting enough to validate my existence. Fortunately, my answer was yes. When I look at everything I’ve accomplished in my forty years, I find it’s actually pretty amazing: the friendships of youth, the academic trials of high school, college and medical school, the grueling hours and sipping from the fire hose of knowledge of residency, forming my own practice, sustaining a healthy marriage and the joy and agony of parenthood. Not to mention the entirety of my experience caring for patients and their families. These are the things that have defined my life to this point and I am proud of all of it.
Overall, I have nothing I can complain about and so many positive things to crow about. Turning forty has been a great thing for me. Yesterday, I felt old. Today, however, is a time to commemorate, a time to celebrate and a time to reflect. And no stereotypical midlife crisis, to boot.
Now, I did buy a new car this year – but I can take solace in the fact that my previous car lasted a decade. And I didn’t buy a convertible.