Monday, October 1, 2007

The Unknown

By Lisa G.

Turning 40 isn’t as big a deal as people say it is. Turning 30 scared me a hell of a lot more. The week of my 30th birthday I was recovering from gall bladder surgery. So naturally my husband decided that’d be a great time to throw me a surprise birthday party. Only, it wasn’t a surprise. Because he was aware I’d thoroughly hate the concept, especially post-surgery, he made sure to tell me about it. He told me when it was pretty much too late to cancel, without extreme embarrassment, when I couldn’t really back out without looking like a huge jerk. So hey, guess what? I went. But I was not a happy camper.

30 just plain depressed me. I can’t even put my finger on exactly why, unless it was the fact the next big milestone was 40, and in this culture that means “over the hill” references. Because by 40 you know, you’re halfway done, buddy. If you haven’t done what you want by now, you sure as hell better start making plans PRONTO, because if you don’t?

Best not think about that. You just better get plannin’.

So when I hit 40 I did go through a bit of a crisis, but, surprisingly, I didn’t throw a hissy fit on nearly the scale of when I hit 30. I think that decade just left me numb to caring about the numbers anymore. For the first time, it became easy to forget exactly how old I was. Thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three… Does it really matter? But 40. That’s a speed bump. You notice 40, but for whatever reason, I didn’t care. Or, I should say, I didn’t get depressed. There’s a difference. I cared, but in an “okay, the first half was really rough, but now it’s time to get on with things” way. I knew this was a fairly big deal, but I was more prepared for it somehow. I’d gotten the hissy fit out of my system, and even though my age was at least starting to show, in small ways, that was okay. The grey hairs I can cover. The wrinkles? Well, I’ve shunned sun from birth, so relatively speaking I’m doing okay in that way, too. I can now sit back and look smugly at all the other 40-something women who didn’t spend a lifetime looking pasty as the underside of a fish. Sure, you looked hot with your savage tans, but now look at you. Total prune city!

That feels good.

At 41 I made a turning point kind of decision, the kind that changes your life by way of your career. Though I love writing, and I’ll always work on pursuing publication, I realized I needed a fallback, something to pay for all the cool journals and pens I’m so fond of. The ones I buy by the boatload from Borders, not to mention the lattes. God, I love the lattes.

Since I’d been working in a library for a couple of years, I knew this was as close to a perfect fit as any other job I could have. The rat race publishing world’s exciting, that’s true. But in the library I can have relative job security in a much less hectic, and frankly unstable, environment. I can work with books, something you may or may not I kind of like, and it’s a job that’s also really helpful to people. It’s not exactly at the top end of the pay scale, but you know? Some things matter more than a big, fat salary. I’ll get enough in the library. Nothing extravagant, but enough. Having worked in so many crappy, awful jobs, I felt keenly the importance of knowing this was a job I could go to willingly every day. I still remember that dread feeling of having to commute over an hour to a job you hate. That’s just plain painful.

So, I made the decision to make myself more marketable in the field by going back to school for my MLIS. It wasn’t the easiest decision I’ve ever made. When I was an undergrad I didn’t have a family, or a steady job. I didn’t have a household that needed to be maintained. I had the luxury of being a full-time student. This time around I have all of those things, plus this time it’s on my own dime. My parents put me through school the first time. No such luck the second. But the payoff will be a profession. Not just a job, but a real, live profession. I had to ask myself all the questions about affording it, how I’d find the time to study, all those inconvenient things you have to think about when you have kids. But I also knew this was just something I had to do for myself, so when the day comes the kids are out of the house I’ll have a career I enjoy. One I don’t think about with utter dread.

When I was in my 20s I always thought 40 was such a big, scary number. I never thought beyond 25, then when I hit that, never beyond 30. Those bigger numbers were just far enough away I could comfortably forget them, put them out of my mind. All the vast future that was “out there” was the great unknown. I just didn’t want to think about it, because thinking about it meant acknowledging it, and that meant admitting one day I wouldn’t be as young as I was then.

The great unknown is here, and the transition to get here wasn’t as tough as the scratching and clawing I had to do to get from 1 – 20. It wasn’t as tough this time. Not by half. At 41 I’m way more sure of myself than I was at 21, and I know myself a whole lot better. That’s not to say I don’t have any indecision. I’ll always have that. I’ll also never have perky boobs again, at least not without a miracle-working bra.

There’s just a certain content that comes with age, a realization you worried way too long about things that were so insignificant, and now you don’t have to do that. Now you know what’s important, and what you can safely blow off. There’s a perspective you hit, in the middle of your life, and it doesn’t make everything clear but it makes a whole lot of it a lot easier to understand. Maybe it’s a Zen thing, a letting go of what’s come before, with a sigh of regret, but the knowledge you’ve also grown through all the suffering and trials.

Whatever’s out there, from here on out, I’m as ready for it as I’ll ever be. Bring on the great unknown. I think I can handle whatever it has to dish out.


Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Great article Lisa. 31 was my number but I may have to wait until 41 to figure some of it out. I'm glad you were able to make that decision to go back to school and I hope you enjoy it.

Heather T.

ageekgirl said...

Lisa, I just turned 40, and am convinced that every day is a gift. I'll claim every year I get. I decided to start my own business at 36. My day job was getting to me and I needed to do something fulfilling for my spirit. Thankfully its just me and my husband, as opposed to having to support a full family. Not to mention that my business is one that can be done in my off hours so I don't have to quit my full time job with insurance yet. Stepping out into something new is a scary thing. Best of luck with the new career!

sally906 said...

I can so relate - I freaked at 30, worried at 40 and then proudly faced 50. Took me 20 years to come to term with the aging process. I was 35 when I decided to go back and finish High School, graduate then do a degree.

All the best with your studies :)