Sunday, September 25, 2016

Which Midlife Crisis is Right for Me?: Reflections on Turning 40

Today is my 40th birthday.

Last year I wrote about the importance of birthdays and noted that, statistically speaking, I was entering middle age. 

I’ve never been one to lament growing older.  This is for several reasons:  1. There’s nothing you can do about it, so, to paraphrase Buddhist and Stoic philosophers, whining about it is irrational and unhealthy.  2. Barring some horrifically painful and permanently debilitating illness, getting older is almost certainly better than the alternative.  3. Getting older isn’t all bad – those new experience points mean you can level up!

One great thing about getting older is that you start figuring some things out: things like relationships, career, family, who you are as a person, and how to get dental insurance (something I just figured out two years ago).  Figuring out everything would be boring, though.  You’ve got to keep some mystery in your life!  Luckily there are still plenty of enigmas in this universe, like the nature of consciousness, how there can be old news, and skinny people who go on diets.

I’ve been joking that my biggest decision upon turning 40 is that I need to start deciding what kind of midlife crisis to have.  

I’m not sure exactly when a midlife crisis is supposed to start.  Maybe it varies depending on the person.  I guess that’s one of the things I’ll have to figure out.

What will it be?  I’ve never been one to see cars as anything but transportation, so I don’t think it will be a fancy sports car.  I don’t mind losing my hair, so I doubt I’ll be joining the Hair Club for Men.

Maybe I'll get back into trying to be a very, very amateur musician.  I sold most of my instruments before my latest move, so perhaps a trip to a used instrument store is on order.  

Maybe I’ll start writing fiction.  This is something I used to do a long, long time ago in a life far, far away, so it checks the box of attempting to rekindle the fires of youth.   Maybe I’ll submit something to a recently announced Philosophy Through Fiction contest.

International travel is another good option.  Having spent much of my adult life in graduate school, I didn’t have a lot of money for travel except to conferences.  In my early 20’s I spent several months in India and also visited Thailand, England, France, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, but in the last 15 years I’ve only been to Canada and Mexico.  There’s a great big world out there.  I’d like to see more of it.  (I suppose unless my midlife crisis involves astronaut training, I’ll have to limit myself to terrestrial travel).

Or… who knows?  If you have midlife crisis suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!  One key element of a midlife crisis is that it’s to some extent unpredictable, even to the person having it.  Maybe I’ll start riding a Harley, take up woodworking, or open a philosophical/science fictional bakery.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll engage in another midlife activity: repeating myself.  Here’s what I said last year.  I kinda liked it.  I’m currently reading some Douglas Adams, so it seems appropriate (it will be more appropriate for me in two years).

The fact that we are alive to experience the beauty, horror, and mystery of the universe is pretty cool. Birthdays are a time to reflect on the incalculably precious privilege of becoming a speck of the universe that, for however short a time, is able to contemplate life, the universe, and everything.  That’s something worth celebrating!  
So happy birthday to me and to you, dear readers, whenever your next birthday may be! 


Here's a video for Weird Al Yankovic's "Happy Birthday."  I've long considered it to be the perfect song for capturing the idea of what birthdays mean to me.


  1. As I entered my 40s, I quit smoking, lost about 40 pounds, and started wearing tank tops with profanity on them. Works for me...

    1. I'm not a smoker, but I could definitely lose 40 pounds (although my love of beer and cake makes this difficult). I'll take the profane t-shirts under advisement. Thanks!

    2. Yeah, I miss beer. Most other things I could live without, but having cider or wine while I'm at the brew-pub still stings. Doesn't help that I live in something of a micro-brew mecca.

    3. I have cut back on beer. I don't keep it around the house as much as I used to, but I don't think I could go to a brew-pub without having one!

  2. I vote for fiction writing. THEN I vote that we start a writing group and meet every other week to workshop chapters or short stories. No more than four people, to keep it doable with our already-busy lives. All science fiction and fantasy. Also, beer.

  3. My sense is that a midlife crisis is supposed to lean in the direction of silly and self-indulgent, but I wonder if trying to do more to make the world a better place is acceptable. At least something other than trying to be nice to people, teaching students to think critically, and writing blog posts, anyway. I'm thinking of things that most of us (including most especially myself) don't do enough like volunteering, activism, charity, community involvement, etc.

  4. At least we know it won't be getting a divorce and dating inappropriately younger women