The Promise of the Future on my 39th Birthday

Today is my birthday. I’m not saying that to squeeze a “Happy Birthday” from you. I don’t send birthday greetings on Facebook. I don’t know why. I’m definitely not anti-birthday, and I’m suspect of people who are, as I wrote a couple of years ago.

I turn 39 today, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that this past week. I don’t obsess about my age, and I’ll never refuse to tell people how old I am, as if being alive for a long time is something to be ashamed of or coy about.

We celebrate the wisdom of older people, but as I get older it occurs to me that wisdom from age comes as much from realizing what we don’t know, as it does from what we do know. We generalize when we say that teenagers think they know everything, but they can’t possibly think they know everything without failing to realize what they don’t know.

I hope to live until 90, so I’m approaching mid-life. But if I live to 117 like the lady who died the other day, then I’m exactly one-third of the way there. And, God forbid, there’s a chance that I’m 99% of the way done. I don’t want to think like that though, so instead I’m thinking of 39 as the last year of Youngishness.

My thinking on Youngishness goes like this: 39 is still in the 30s. And 30 is attached to 29, which is in the 20s, which everyone agrees is young. (Except for teenagers and younger kids, but we’ve already established that they don’t know what they don’t know.) So anyone in their 30s is youngish.

But next year, 40. Shit. Are you kidding me? 40? Twelve years ago a neighbor celebrated his 40th birthday with a party at his house. My daughter and his daughter were friends, so I walked over to drop her off and I thought, “These people all look so old and uncool.” I was 27. Somehow I’m now old and uncool.

Well, I’m almost old and uncool. I’ve got one year left. A year of Youngishness.

There’s a reason that “Best Under 40” lists are a thing. Impressive accomplishments before 40 have some added value because they’re achieved by a young person. Implied in these lists is that we shouldn’t expect greatness from people under 40. Why? Because they’re young. They’re learning. They’re just getting started.

Also implied is that by the time you’re 40, you need to have your shit together.

So while I will enjoy the last year of Youngishness, I plan to attack 39. Plan. Work. Achieve. That’s what I’ll do this year, more than any other year. It promises to be a watershed year, and instead of mourning the last year of Youngishness, I’ll prepare for the decades of post-Youngishness to follow.

Julia Child was 49 when her first cookbook was published. Rodney Dangerfield was 45 before his career took off. Vera Wang didn’t become a designer until she turned 40. Colonel Sanders didn’t even start cooking chicken until he was 40. Ronald Reagan didn’t become a Republican until his 40s, and a politician until his 50s.

There is work to be done. There are adventures to be had. There is life to be lived.

It’s easy to think that our lives will always be like this. For good or bad. But one thing that we learn as we grow older is that everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Sometimes that’s sad and traumatic. Sometimes that’s refreshing and hopeful.

Certain things will change regardless of what we do. But other things are entirely within our control. We can do better. We can be better. We can work harder. We can think smarter. We can stop wasting time.

I’ve finished the first 39. I’ve lived intense happiness and devastating sadness. I’ve progressed and I’ve regressed. I’ve been proud and I’ve been ashamed. And even though this is the final year of Youngishness, it’s not the first year of Oldishness.

Old is the opposite of young, but it’s also the opposite of new.

I can’t avoid Oldishness with Youngishness forever. But I can avoid Oldishness with Newness.

Every day is a new opportunity to do better, be better, work harder, think smarter, stop wasting time.

I’ll do that from now until April 20, 2018.

Check back then to see how it went.

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