I was driving home Friday and was listening to the "classic country" station I often enjoy. It's a station that plays a lot of music I remember from my youth. Just before I got home, they played "Back Side of Thirty" by John Conlee, who was one of the staples of country music radio from that time in my youth (and whom 7-year-old me wondered was the same as this guy).
Back in my youth I'd listen to songs like this, describing your 30s and 40s as this bleak nightmare. My first thought was that 30 seemed centuries away, some sort of distant milepost beyond my tiny mind's comprehension. But Conlee singing about the life of a lonely guy who skips work to drink the rent money away, or Jerry Lee Lewis singing alternately upbeat and downbeat songs about hitting 40 and encountering the ol' midlife crisis...listen to enough of those when you're young (as I did), and it makes turning 40, let alone 30, sound like the end of all hope.
It's all kind of funny because I'm not that far away from reaching that "end of all hope" age. Sometimes I wondered what life would be like when I got that old, and if it would indeed be the living hell I heard it was in the songs.
But life is funny that way. Instead, 40 isn't anything I dread at all. I've built a good life to this point. Most of my decisions have been wise. Sure, some things didn't work out as I'd hoped, but those hopes were replaced by realities that, more often than not, were much better than anything I could have asked for. I made decisions that paid off in the long run. Plus I've matured. I've learned a lot. I've become better at realizing what really matters and what's just a passing inconvenience. Sure, I've suffered from time to time, but I've also realized that each instance of suffering brings with it a little more wisdom.
If anything, I approach 40 feeling that I'm right where I want to be. The big questions have been answered: education, mate, home, career. All that's settled, and happily so. The big challenges have been met. Now it's time for me to meet some challenges of my own choosing. Those are challenges I look forward to.