Later this month I turn 42. Not with any particular angst - quite the opposite in fact. My forties so far have been kind to me. I feel in the best bit of my life. Health is good. I feel happy most of the time. I have both a history and a future. My life feels anchored. I kind of know what I'm doing most of the time now. Things don't really faze me any more. Even when things are a bit frantic, I feel calm. After all, nobody's probably going to die.
So far so banal, I guess. But I sometimes wonder whether I am getting too comfortable. The forties are a funny decade. In fact, from what I see, it's not a decade in its own right, but the weird interim between of this period just after the end of your thirties- when you've got hair, status and a future (a place in which I am basking now) and this pretty wild place just before the beginning of your fifties when your hair falls out, your wife decides she doesn't like you and nobody takes your calls any more. A time when you become Part of the Past.
I have, in recent years, observed many a happy early 40-something morph, over a few years, into a troubled 47,48 or 49 year old. They almost always have a marital crisis, even if this doesn't involve leaving their wife or partner. A job or career suddenly feels no longer right and they go through an awful period of transition where they have to define theirselves anew, either through redundancy or simply not being able to face the old job any more.
On a personal level, they become taciturn, a bit unpredictable, given to mood-swings. They drink more. More often than not, they gain weight and look a lot older. If they're really unlucky, their physical health starts to go bad too. Lots of aches, pains and minor ailments.
I am, of course, talking about the famous mid-life crisis. This is as real as day, in my view and it appears to affect most people. I know far more men than women, but I also think it affect females too, but in a different way. The good news is that most people seem to get through it. Health, happiness and direction all return. There's an acceptance, somehow, of whatever it is that was bringing them down. Life, they realise, is too short for staying in a hole. Changes are made, a new phase begins. The cycle of life brings them a kind of peace or concilation with their lot.
Which is why working with people in their 50s is normally so good. Men, particularly, seem to have gotten over their competitiveness by that stage. Their new predisposition seem to be pulling them towards collaboration rather than besting other people. Their edges seem taken off. Emotional intellegence seems greater in older men and they often have a nurturing side that maybe wasn't there in their younger selves.
When I reflect on the future, I know that life will change. I am fairly sure I will go through some tricky period of adjustment as I mentally transit from being still relatively young to truly middle-aged. I think it just goes with the territory.
But I look forward too to what will emerge on the other side. I think I have worked out now that happiness, for me (and for many) depends on long-term anchors in my life, a sense of purpose and living according to the values I feel increasingly aware of with the passage of time. It is also about gratitude. Appreciating what I have and feeling thankful every day. Knowing who I am now will, I hope, help me through the bumps and grinds of middle age and bring me out on the other side a better person than I am now.
So who is scared of becoming 42? Not me (honest!).