I am turning 40 this year, and will admit that I feel a certain sense of accomplishment - even pride - in that fact. Or at least I would, if I wasn't so aware of the colossal oddness of the concept of me-turning-40.
I know I am not the first person who has turned 40 and I won't be the last. I also know that up until recently I thought I was handling the whole "turning 40" thing pretty well....that is, until I shared my opinion with one of my friends, who just shook her head at me with a rueful grin (she being a truly close friend who occupies that position in my life for just such times as these).
All of which means that I now suspect I am having, for lack of a better description, a 'practical mid-life crisis'.
Don't get me wrong - I am excited about turning 40. But I am excited not in the way I am when I get to visit a new city or see an old friend.
Rather, I am excited in the way I get excited when I am going to get my teeth cleaned or my hair lightened - practically-speaking, it is a task that needs doing, I have made every effort to complete the task with the highest efficiency and effectiveness and minimal down-time, and signs look good that I am going to do just that.
However, I am also discovering that that kind of practical excitement isn't what is needed to successfully navigate the turning-40 process. I mean, as a chronological event it certainly is - "40th birthday, check". But on the inside...well, I have this sneaking suspicion that a person can turn 40 for years before - and after - the actual event.
Whether they like it or want to or not.
I also suspect that how slow or fast (or not at all) that process goes is entirely up to personal choice. Which is why the other kind of excitement - the meeting an old friend or the new me kind - is exactly what is needed to navigate such a milestone, complete with its inevitable evaluation and (hopefully, if all goes well) evolution of a life.
Let's take faith, for example.
Pretty much from age 18 (when I first began actively struggling to recover from my eating disorder) to age 33 I had the faith of a saint-in-the-making. I was known for making snap decisions like quitting my high-paying oil company job and moving to India ... with nothing more than an inner nudge as my provocation.
But from age 33 until just a month or so ago, I had veered off in the complete opposite direction, taking with me a literal stack of intellectual essays into the biological underpinnings of humanity's longing for 'something greater'. I was fascinated by brain scan studies of meditating monks and neural processing and how science has evolved our understanding of faith.
In short, I wanted nothing to do with faith un-supported by fact.
Until one day, 4 months into my 39th year, when I suddenly realized with startling clarity that this approach was not doing one single thing to improve my happiness, peace, or enjoyment in life.
In that moment I realized, like everything else that occurs from today forward in my life, that having faith is a CHOICE. I get to choose to have faith or not to have faith. I also get to choose how I make that choice, what research I do into making a good decision, whose opinions I factor in, and what my success and choice-satisfaction markers will be.
And since I have now experienced both sides - having faith and not having faith (at least in the way I have come to understand what the phrase "having faith" means to me) - I can now make a good and informed choice. I am now in possession of enough experiential data to realize that I am happier when I choose to have faith than when I choose not to have faith.
So, today, with my 40th birthday a mere 8 months away, I have decided to choose to have faith.
In the same way, I am now realizing that each time the longing arises to up and move to Australia, go back to school, have a child (which would entail all the other attendant pre-requisites like dating - eek!), learn a language, become a yoga instructor, write a book about turning 40, choose a new profession, etc., I must use the same system of weights and measures to evaluate each opportunity in turn.
Perhaps most importantly, I must give each idea my highest consideration and respect, being careful to consider only whether a choice for or against each option would potentially improve my happiness and enjoyment of life, and staying far away from self-assessments of whether the option is either possible or practical.
I can feel in my heart as well as understand with my mind that telling myself 'yes' or 'no' out of hand, especially at this important half-way mark, would be neither fair nor kind. After all, this re-evaluation and evolution process is precisely what practical mid-life crises are for!
By the way, I am also realizing that there is no particularly good reason why this process has to happen at age 40. Or why it appears for some to be more pronounced at age 40 than at any other age.
In that way, turning 40 is like being 18 again, carefully considering my options and then choosing recovery over my eating disorder.
It is just as (well almost just as) exciting as almost meeting Sting (a pre-turning-40 goal of mine) last week in Washington, D.C.
It has just as much promise as being born, or waking up each morning.
It is impractically practical - here for a reason - bearing gifts for me - and all with the best of intentions.
And it too is a CHOICE.
By that I mean, I am also slowly but surely realizing that I can turn 40 without turning 40, if that makes any sense.
In fact, I wonder if all the angst and indecision of turning 40 may just be a delayed reaction to all those other years when I wanted to consider becoming a yoga instructor, dreamed of meeting Sting, and was curious about visiting Australia, but lacked any internal provocation to push those items anywhere near to the top of my priority list.
By the way, if anyone reading this happens to know Sting....