I wasn’t exactly fond of turning 40. Who is? But I didn’t fret about it or dread it the way a lot of people do, either. Many who had gone there before me bemoaned “everything falling apart at 40.” To listen to some people, I was going to go to bed on the last night of my 39th year as a relatively healthy person and wake up the next morning with arthritis, chronic upset stomachs, severely impaired vision and a case of butt-boils thrown in for good measure.
That didn’t happen. And halfway through my 40th year, it still hasn’t.
However, I can’t say that I haven’t felt a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, change. In the last six months, I’ve grown a lot more aware of the passage of time, and of just how precious I should really consider each hour. I don’t mean that in any doomsday kind of way. I never gave a damn about biological clocks in the heydey of my baby-makin’ (or in my case, non-baby-makin’) years, so why would I start now?
But my awareness that time is not infinite and must be grabbed by the tail and ridden for all its worth is stronger than ever, just the same. There is a vague, uncomfortable but not entirely unpleasant sound in my head.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
I notice it the most when I am at work. I’ve been in the same job for 15 years, so when I started there I was one of the “young’uns.” Now, although there are still many people in my workplace my age or older, just as many are 10-15 years younger than me. I notice my new tick-tock the most when I’m with them.
We live in a workworld where things often go wrong or come up at the last minute, and we’re all on salary. When shit happens, we have to band together and dig out the pooper-scoopers. It doesn’t matter if we’ve already worked a full day – we’re all staying until the problem is resolved or the task is done.
After 15 years, I’m used to this. As a 20-something in the office, I approached these moments with a bright-eyed eagerness most of the time. A new challenge? Bring it. I will turn it over my knee and spank its sorry butt. I thought nothing of late nights or weekends devoted to the office even though I’d already given my job the standard 40.
Now, I still do what needs to be done. But I’m not upbeat and cheery about it. I don’t like the extra drain on my time or energy. I feel I’ve paid my dues, and I want to leave work behind and go be me. I realize that to my younger, challenge-eager co-workers, I probably appear energy-drained, cynical and even a little bitchy at these times.
And then I think back to when I was one of them, and a 40 or 50-something co-worker who was stuck staying late with me because of some ridiculous deadline or last minute crisis would sigh and look all drawn and beaten down while we did what we had to do. I’d look at them and think “Damn, I’m glad I’m not old. I’d hate to get tired so easily.”
Now I think I had it all wrong. Being over 40 didn’t make them any more energy-drained or tired than me, at least not if their 40s were anything like mine. I cram more into each day now than I did ten years ago, and don’t feel any extra aches or pains for it.
They’d just started hearing the tick-tock. They had already put in 15, 20 or 30 years, doing what they were supposed to do to be able to have a life. They were ready to start having it. They wanted to get home to their spouse, their kid, their unfinished painting, the dog who was waiting for a walk, their garage band that had just gotten a gig at a local pub, or their chili nachos and six-pack of Budweiser.
Sometimes, the tick-tock pisses me off, because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. But I have to admit that I’ve gotten more out of each day in my 40th year than I have in most of the ones that preceded it. I have droned on and on about writing since I finished college. Now, I am doing it. I don’t write any better than I did at 20-or-30-something. It wasn’t like I was waiting for some flash of inspiration. I just operated like I had all the time in the world. “Someday” was soon enough. I poured all my younger energy into whatever was going on at the moment, which often ended up being a crisis at work or the need to go out and get rip-roaringly shitfaced with my friends.
“Someday” isn’t soon enough now. There’s still plenty of time, but only if I start using it wisely. That’s been the message that my subconscious has been drilling into my skull since my 40th year began.
So you know what? I wouldn’t go back to being 30-something. Or 20-something. I like this new me, this person who considers her dreams worth more than whatever the daily distraction may be, and who realizes that no matter how broke she is, her most precious possession is still time.
I don’t really try to explain this to my co-workers, because it is unexplainable. It is something that only comes when you get your own tick-tock. And for some of them, what we do may very well end up being the thing that makes them want to roll out of bed in the morning. As jobs go, ours can be pretty cool. It isn’t my passion, but it very well could be someone else’s.
The ones like me, who end up finding out that isn’t quite the case for them, will hear their own ticker soon enough. Years fly by quickly.
I hope when they do, they think back to me (because of course by then I will have retired on my writing earnings and be scribbling from a beach somewhere) and realize I wasn’t such a geezerly bitch after all.