40th Note to Self
Welcome to the big 40! Or, as some say, the new 20…and you can see why. It’s like having the energy and willpower to conquer the world, but without the insecurity and imposter syndrome that ruled your world two decades ago.
40 feels like a mother-fucking world-rocking system upgrade. All you had to sacrifice for this awesome new confidence and security was some elasticity in your skin, a bit of sag in the chest and jaw, and a decade of powering through one epic fail after another.
Then, BAM! Fewer shits to give over trivialities, and a whole new lease on life.
Any regrets? None.
A few disappointments, sure. Who get’s out of this life without some disappointments?
Man, do you know how to set some unrealistic goals. It’s one of the things I love about you. You’re an optimist in the size and scope of the things you want to get your teeth into…still, it does tend to set you up for failure a lot. In fact, you’ve managed to make failure into a new kind of messy art. You’re like the Jackson Pollock of goal setting.
The nice thing about these bombastic aims is that…by sheer luck/force of will/dumb blind fumbling you sometimes get pretty close to the mark. A swing and a miss, sure…but you often only miss it by the smallest margin, which means statistically if you keep swinging—you’re bound to home run something just by accident.
So, let’s recap the goals you set for yourself a decade ago that you wanted to achieve by your 40th birthday.
- Have a self-sustaining property by 40th (Only to the half-way self-sustainable point. Maybe another year or two before fully in the clear)
- Have a fully functioning fair trade publishing house, with at least six authors under the label. (Not going to happen any time soon. Funding fell through again and again. This will be shelved for discussion in a few years.)
- Have six books on the market (Currently at three unless you count the B. Unbidden work)
- Full back tattoo panel.
- Learn to dance the tango well.
- Dance poi well.
- Speak fluent Russian.
- Speak fluent Spanish.
- Have at least six passport stamps.
- Own a treehouse with an art/writing space.
- Enjoy a man sandwich.
- Be happy. (DONE!)
Of these goals you have literally only achieved one. Just one. #12. BE HAPPY.
You didn’t set goals about what you wanted to look like, how much money you should have in the bank, or what kind of relationship you wanted. You didn’t say things like, “married with kids”, or “multi-millionaire”.
And, who knew that setting up a manwhich would be so difficult. Or that finding a tango partner would be like hunting for a magical unicorn in a war torn post-apocalyptic YA novel.
You can speak some Spanglish, and a few sentences in Russian. Your passport expired last year. You still can’t execute a poi turn without setting your hair on fire. There are rats and a family of squirrels living in your treehouse art space…not to mention a leaking moldy roof. Your publishing label is hosting one artist, you, and not even financially at best yet. You have half of your expected books on market for your timeline. And your self-sustainable property is just now starting to come together. (Although you killed all the trout, and the coyotes ate your ducks).
BUT YOU ARE HAPPY.
One goal is fulfilled. And not just a flash-bang achievement. Not just noise and bright light and then gone…
The kind of happiness that warms your belly and seeps through your limbs at night when you’re looking up at the stars. The kind of joy that permeates your smile when you wake up and stretch in the morning and you’re relieved and grateful to have another day of this world. The kind of contentment that floods through your fingertips when you sit at your writing desk in the morning and sip coffee waiting for the words to pour out.
That kind of bliss. That kind of happiness.
You made it to that place at last.
It wasn’t on the desert highway. It wasn’t in the mountain ranges in Alaska. It wasn’t in the books store startup. It wasn’t in the eyes of a man you love. It wasn’t a neatly wrapped package at the end of a destination, after a year of traveling and living out of your Jeep. It wasn’t in silence. It wasn’t tucked in a back cupboard or in the lost and found box at the concert hall. It wasn’t lingering on the long stretches of the 101 or hiding behind a bouquet of wild flowers from a stranger.
It was in you. All along, it was in you. You’d taken it with you in search of bliss, and what you were looking for all those years was right under your nose.
I’d call you a fool, a charming idiot, but the truth is…you would not have found it if you hadn’t looked in all those other places first.
The last place we always look is in ourselves, because we have to exhaust all other options to be able to see what potential we carry within.
And here you are, forty years old, and truly happy at last.
This fourth decade bring with it; a boatload of new community, clarity, some extra jiggle in the bum, new insight, less stress, less fear, more confidence, stronger relationships, fewer self-made heartbreaks, and all of it feels like winning the biggest jackpot…a priceless wealth—even the extra jiggles.
Who knew that the BlissQuest would be a fourteen year long search for this…and still be ongoing, in-progress, building.
You are not wealthy. You’re living month to month, waiting tables, and publishing only by the grace of patronage.
You are not skinny and beautiful. You’re twenty pounds overweight, and still re-growing your eyelashes after the allergy incident.
You are not in a long term romantic relationship, and haven’t been in over twelve years.
You are in debt, and working toward solvency.
You are not living in easy range of amenities, or art culture, communication, or resources.
And yet, all the things that you may have once thought would define your happiness on some level are not even factored into your perfect sense of bliss. In fact, it begs the question…did you ever need them at all?
As these revelations finally settled in, and your shoulders adjusted to the new weightlessness of not carrying the burdens of self-recrimination and failure…it doesn’t even matter to you that you haven’t met the rest of your goals 100%. You’re still working toward them–the game isn’t up, there are four more innings to go. You’ll get there, or you wont, but you’re no longer defined by those goals and their outcomes.
And as you sit at the writing table, looking out into the forest you love, you find yourself asking…
Now that you know bliss is yours, and you can have it at any time just for the asking, and looking within…now what? It seems to you now the most elusive part of the equation has been uncovered…the rest of the journey is or will be all about how big and beautiful you can imagine the possibilities.
You just had to sit on the floor for that one, because your knees got weak, and your breath caught. What do you even do with that kind of power?
The key was never in the number forty. It was never in your dress size, or the ring on your left finger. It was never in your bank statement or your shoe closet. It was never in the number of friends on your twitter account or Facebook list. It was never in the odometer or passport stamps.
The key was always in you, it just took you 40 years to discover it. Don’t think of it as wasted years searching, because in those years you discovered who you are. Every minute of those struggles were to get you right here, right now, holding all this power to build whatever the fuck you can imagine.
And now that you have that key, the real adventure begins. Cue the Indiana Jones theme song, because it’s time to sit down and write out some new goals. The big 5-0 will be here before you know it, so get mapping.
Don’t think so small this time. A publishing label with only six authors? Now that you know the key…
GOAL big or go home.
Think, books in every country. Think book sales that have no comparable metric. Think movie deals and production adventures and fair-trade standards for publishing being re-written globally.
While we’re thinking bombastically, how about imagining a sports bra that actually supports. How’s that for unrealistic? But hey, if we’re wishing… why not ask for a better over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder?
Meanwhile, Athena, keep being happy.
Be the kind of happy that gives other people joy. Be the kind of happy that inspires. Be the kind of happy that uplifts, encourages, builds, and enlivens.
You found it.
Now share it.
Pay it forward.
Happy Birthday, Athena. Enjoy 40, it’s truly the new 20–minus the self-loathing, paralyzing fears, and perky tits. So have fun, and go build some cool shit.
P.S. You still have a pulse, so, it’s okay to leave the man sandwich goal on the list, after all, you’re an optimist.
P.P.S. I told you there would be ladybugs. Faith, lady. Faith.