On your 40th Birthday


Dear friend,

Congratulations on reaching your 40th year. As somebody who passed that mark a short while ago – well, it feels a short while ago – I thought I ought to offer some advice on how to deal with this landmark event, as I can tell it is sitting uneasily on your shoulders.

Let us start with the number. For many this number looms on the horizon like some monstrous precursor to infirmity. Yet the difference between being a 39 year-old and a 40 years-old is not one year but one day. For the vast majority of your life you have gone from day to day without noticing any changes. Today should be no different. It is just a label, a category; something we affixed to ourselves when young and forgot to remove when it became of no consequence. You are one day older, that is all.

Now let us move on to how you will be treated by others. You may receive the odd wry smile or sympathetic look from those close to you, but these people will only be reacting to you and your demeanour. Show them that you are happy and they will be happy for you in return.

For some however, today will be an opportunity to tease you relentlessly, especially those who have yet to reach this glorious point in their lives. Take this as a sign of their immaturity and rise above it as only the wise can. Being 40 is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to embrace. It may have been the start of the slippery slope half a century ago, but life is much easier now. Your body is unlikely to have undergone the same hardships as your forebears meaning that this is the prime of your life. You still have the energy and ability to do whatever you please combined with the knowledge and experience to choose wisely. If someone younger than you laughs at the fact you are 40, laugh back; both because you know how wrong they are and because karma has a tendency to be a right bitch on these matters.

It’s also easy to get to this point in life with regrets, to look where you are and wonder what could have been if you had made different choices. Don’t. You are not Sam Beckitt and this is not Quantum Leap. You cannot change what has happened in your life so you should accept it. Some people act in denial, trying to cling to their past by staying ‘down with the kids’. Others look to abruptly change their lives to behave as the person they wish they could be. This is another path to mockery, because while there is nothing wrong with new things, you are not being true to who you really are. You are 40 years old, the best of ages. You have no need for pretence, just be you, and if being you means a pony tail, leather trousers and a Harley Davidson, then go for it.

My final piece of advice is enjoy it. You are only 40 once and time moves ever onwards. Be proud of being 40 and make the most of your day, because no matter how you feel now you will look back on this day in ten years time and think how wonderful it was to be forty. AndΒ ten years after that you will feel the same about fifty, and ten years after that you will feel the same about sixty…

12 thoughts on “On your 40th Birthday

  1. These milestones are completely arbitrary, as you say: if we used say 12 and not 10 as base in our counting system, being three-dozen-and-four would have no significance whatever.

    And yet our idioms are replete with axioms and cliches such as ‘the big five-oh’ or ‘the wrong side of sixty’ which give spurious weight to these milestones, or rather millstones round the necks of our anxieties.

    Time already plays curious tricks with our minds; so thanks, Dylan, for pointing out the fallacies inherent in our thinking the limitations of language accurately reflect reality.

    • As someone (just) born after decimalisation, you’ve now got me wondering as to whether people used to celebrate their four dozenth birthday like a fortieth is celebrated today…

      • As someone ‘on the wrong side of sixty’ I can tell you they didn’t! But we do talk of ‘three score and ten’ as being our allotted time on Earth (according to the Bible) and, scarily, that’s not long to go for me. But you can’t believe everything in the Bible, as they say…

  2. Wise words indeed. I used to complain about having another birthday until my step-father said, “It’s better than the alternative.” Such a simple statement and yet so meaningful.

  3. Pingback: What a difference a decade makes | A Writer's Notepad

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