This week I celebrated my fortieth birthday. My thoughts naturally turned to the meaning, or insignificance, of chronological age.
On the one hand, our counting of time is quite arbitrary. I have been alive for 40 orbits of the planet around its star, but so what!? We use the decimal system because we have ten digits on our hands. Using other methods of counting, my age would be completely different. Also, what is so special about round numbers?
But in our society, people tend to think that age has some importance. People's achievements are compared with their age, and with the achievements of others at that age. It is considered important to know whether individuals do things that are normal for their age, or earlier or later than other people do those things. People's appearance is also judged in relation to their age.
I have always wanted to think that age didn't matter to me, and that I did what I considered to be right at the time that was right for me, regardless of society's opinions. For instance, I married unusually young, and got a driving licence at a relatively late age. These were the right choices for me.
However, there is some truth in the generalization that people go through a series of stages in life, that to some extent match their age. This is because we accumulate and apply life experience over time. Children are learning things for the first time. Adolescents are searching for their identity. During their twenties, people usually make decisions about their lifestyle that determine much of their future. In their thirties, people often continue to grow and develop. By the time they reach 40, people have normally acquired a wealth of life experience and can use this to their advantage.
I consider myself to have some continuity throughout my life. This means that in some ways, I am still the same person I was at various stages in my past. Much of my theoretical understanding of the world was acquired early, but since then I have had real-life experience of various situations, and this informs my identity in a way that is subtly different from the abstract knowledge I had before the experiences.
During my twenties, I chose my profession, expanded my self-understanding and my knowledge of who I was. During my thirties I worked on my self-development. There were things about myself that I chose to change, and I gradually abandoned the idea that a personality is a fixed, predetermined thing. I worked on becoming a better, happier person not held back by my past.
Now, as I enter my fifth decade, I intend to use all my accumulated knowledge and experience, and the changes I have introduced into my own personality, to achieve the things I have been planning and dreaming all my life. I feel liberated and empowered by my age and wisdom. The coming decade will be one of fulfilment, and it will be fun!