Forty

May 30, 2022

I turned forty today. It was a nice day at home, and there was ice cream cake. One upside to having a birthday on a holiday: you almost always have it off. One downside: a lot of other people do too. But late May also coincides with peak allergy season for me, so I’m happy with at home cake instead of sneezing the top scoop of ice cream off my cone.

My thirties, by the numbers:

  • 1 child.
  • 3 houses and 1 apartment across two states.
  • 4 cars. Two Subarus, a Honda and a Volkswagen. Real exotics.
  • Visited 5 new countries: Mexico, Spain, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and two new US states, Colorado and Nevada.
  • 6 jobs (across 2 careers).
  • 1 global pandemic.

The most complete record for those numbers (besides my head) was my Photos library. While I had online accounts that pre-dated my thirties, I deleted two of them (Facebook entirely, everything on Twitter over a few years old), and lost track of a few others (two blogs, including one that was a webcomic that I swear was pretty funny but I have absolutely no record of). I choose to believe that, God willing and the creek don’t rise1, I’ll be able to point to this blog post on this blog when I turn fifty.

Notes for my Forties

Last night Andrea said she wanted to document me giving advice for my fifty-year-old self because, “you can’t go back and give advice to your thirty-year-old self”. Fair. Although I wish I could, because I feel like the main difference between my twenties and thirties was that I had to actually learn something. While I could brute-force my way through a lot of things in my twenties (with mixed results) that fell apart early in my thirties. So, here’s some advice for myself for the next ten years from what I’ve learned from the last ten years.

Know what to say “no” to

I spent a lot of my early and mid-thirties saying “no” to things out of avoidance. My anxiety about being anxious when doing something got the best of me, and I wouldn’t do it. I know relationships ended because of this. I missed out on things that were objectively fun because of it. I missed out on career paths because of it. Eventually I went to therapy and now I have the metacognition to know better why I’m saying no, and a historical record to look back and that proves that the alternative to avoiding anxiety isn’t being not anxious, it’s being miserable about the choices you made to avoid it.

Austin Kleon wrote about a similar idea recently, “Would I do it tomorrow?”. I haven’t found the right mental model for me to decide yes or no to things, but I at least know it’s not defaulting to “no”, or choosing “no” because you’re worrying about what the bad parts of saying “yes” are.

Know what choices have been made and no longer require further thought

This is the crux of why becoming an adult is difficult, to me. Looking again at my twenties, I wasn’t entangled with anything. I could quit a job on a whim, move, spend money on whatever. Once I got married, owned a house, had a kid, that all becomes more difficult. Which then breeds a different mindset where you think things can’t or shouldn’t change.

But a) everything changes eventually and b) being adaptable to change of your own volition is important for being able to deal with when change happens outside of your control.

So think of the future like an artist trying a bunch of different mediums, then saying “I’m going to draw with pen on paper from now on”. They can draw anything, but they don’t have to think about what they’re going to draw it with.

Listen to the birds

Sometimes Andrea asks me what I’m thinking about, and I reply “nothing”. I don’t think she always believes me, but I’ve been trying to get better about being bored. It’s like a return to my pre-Internet youth, where when you sat down outside, that was it, there was the outside and nothing else. You could listen to the birds, or look at the clouds. Do we need more than that?

This isn’t me going full “blow up your TV”. I recently bought a really large, very fancy one. It’s more an acknowledgement that I can only think about so many things, and often I’ll think about things in unhelpful ways. So, sometimes don’t think, just listen and watch, or doodle on a piece of paper, or close your eyes and feel the breeze. Brains need rest too.

Take more vacations

…and travel to more places. We made an intentional decision after getting married to spend most of our savings on a house, and then made a lot of other life choices around having a house. We now have a nice house and will never move again (see above about knowing what won’t change. Again, God willing and the creek don’t rise), but it meant there was never a lot of money left over for vacations or travel2, or we felt that travel was an extravagance. While I do enjoy spending time in our lovely home, some of the best memories I have and the biggest source of novel ideas came from traveling.

You can respond to everything with this now


  1. Even though I don’t believe in God, this is by far my favorite American saying.
  2. But Joe, you say, you went to 5 new countries. Well, they were all for work. If you want to travel, I highly recommend working for a travel company.

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