At forty

Today I celebrate the completion of my fortieth trip around the sun.

At forty, a white American male can be reasonably confident that he’s at, or even a touch beyond, the statistical midpoint of his life, that in some raw actuarial sense there are now more yesterdays than there are tomorrows. The relevant clichés suggest that this is a moment for taking stock, for putting things in perspective, and they are absolutely on point.

I suspect I’m like a great many of us, though, in that the culture’s usual metrics of success don’t really signify; so many of the things we are told a man is supposed to want for himself are simply not things I aspire to. So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about just what such an accounting might mean for me. And what I keep circling back to is that wisest and most beautiful of Nietzsche’s injunctions: “Become who you are.”

That’s the only metric or goalpost that makes any sense at all to me. Of course, in accepting it, I’m immediately thrown back on the problem of trying to figure out just who that person is.

I can sure tell you who I’d like for him to be: someone more trusting, more forgiving, more generous, more gracious and more present. Someone continually engaged in the repair of the world, continually alive to the profound love and friendship that surrounds him. Someone who spends more time on bicycles and less on airplanes. Someone who plays the game a little more lightly, as my friend George would say. (He’d be referring to Go, but I think it’s pretty wise counsel in general.)

All of this is aspirational, admittedly and surely. But you know what? There’s not a damn thing in that laundry list that isn’t achievable with patience, some discipline, and a little help from my friends. In fact, I find the prospect of trying to become that guy entirely agreeable. So here’s to everything we’ve shared up until now, here’s to the beloved that didn’t make it…and here’s to the road ahead.

I can’t wait to see how this story ends.

13 responses to “At forty”

  1. freyburg says :

    As someone who is hurtling towards 40 myself….I can’t find one thing here to disagree with. Great post.

  2. Adrian McEwen says :

    Happy Birthday.

    And while I whole-heartedly agree with your aspirations, I’d offer this thought (if a youtube video can be a thought) for balance. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  3. Scott Boone says :

    Nice to see someone else use “trips around the sun” definition for years.

    Happy B-day.

  4. Ben Saunders says :

    Many happy returns, Adam

  5. rena says :

    happy days! sorry we could not celebrate with you.

  6. John the Statistic says :


    and many happy returns

  7. Stella de Oro says :

    someone said: Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away. something tells me you’ve had your fair share and so it will continue. happy birthday, many more, keep on keepin’ on.

  8. padawan says :

    Bon anniversaire Adam.

    (And welcome to the last beautiful decade in a man’s life, as I was greeted two years ago ;-).)

  9. Tim Stevens says :

    Happy Birthday Adam. By sheer coincidence, the next item in my RSS reader was Steven Berlin Johnson also wondering what it all means at 40

  10. Martha says :

    Happy birthday for last month adam:)
    Martha (ffb)

  11. Donna Sink says :

    I’m very late to this birthday party, but nonetheless.

    I recently heard a line from Harry Pickens I quite like: You don’t find yourself, you create yourself. To become more generous, more present, etc. you simply have to act as if you are those things.

    Given how generously you’ve shared here and at v-2, and how much I as one of thousands have learned from you, I’d say you’re doing a damn good job of it so far.

    Cheers to the next 40. As a 41yo, I can honestly say it keeps getting better.

  12. AG says :

    That’s so sweet of you to say, Donna.

    [This is me blushing.]

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