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Reaching the age of 40 is a milestone for many, but what sort of milestone? Is it a step into carefree ...
2020-09-06 09:00:00
The Youth of the 40-Year-Old
Read in 3 minutes


For the first time ever I’m putting off, in my mind – because, unfortunately, I can’t in real life – my birthday. This isn’t my style at all (at least so it seems to me). Usually I arrange everything as soon as possible, not leaving anything for the last minute, because otherwise I’d have to think about it all the time and it wouldn’t give me any peace.

But maybe after 40 that’s just how it works? Because there’s not much time left. That’s the kind of black thought I have now. And I think that’s why I’m not able to make basic birthday decisions: how, where and with whom do I want to celebrate? And what presents do I want?

This is how I managed to create a situation in which not only am I stressed by this birthday, but slowly all those around me are too, those who are tired of asking me these questions.

I feel stupid, but for now I can’t do anything about it.


Despite this procrastination, I’ve noticed that my thoughts constantly revolve around a single subject.

No big deal, I try to reassure myself. I’m starting a new decade. I’ll be the youngest again, but this time among those in their 40s.

It doesn’t work.

Will I now be like the old engineer Karwowski and his wife from Being Forty, directed by Jerzy Gruza, who died at the beginning of the year? When I watched this series on TV, I was the age of the heroes’ children, or maybe even younger.

Then, for a long time, I was younger than athletes, actors, singers.

I recall the song from the opening credits:

Forty years passed like it was a day
You know now it’s closer than further away

Today the serious, elegantly dressed parents, who like me drop their children off at school in the morning, are often younger than me. Not to mention the old, boring politicians I watch on TV.

I wonder when people in shops, in cafés and on the street will start to address me using the formal Pan. When did my children get so old that on their iPads they’re watching not Peppa Pig, but YouTubers, Kamerzysta videos and Ballada o cyckach?

I look through the window at the old people with canes, walking with difficulty, and at children in buggies – and I ask myself whether I’m already at the halfway point between them.

I talk about this with my parents. My mum says not to worry about it:

“40 is nothing!” she says with a wave. “It used to be a lot more, now it’s changed, things have shifted. Today’s 40 is yesterday’s 30.”

I think this convinces my dad the most; he tells me that he had his biggest crisis at age 30, but because at the time he hadn’t done anything creative and was still studying.

“So you have nothing to worry about, son,” he says calmingly, stroking my face.

“But dad, first of all you’re talking about 30, and secondly about yourself.”

“Well, just think how you’d feel if you were as old as I am now.”

An older friend tells me it’s really only after 40 that life takes on meaning.

“You don’t struggle so much, or wear yourself out like at 20 or 30, because you’re still young, but not so dumb anymore.”

If she were me, she couldn’t wait to celebrate this birthday.

Immediately I feel not only encouraged, but also about 10 years younger. So maybe I’ll have a party and I’ll be happy?

“If you can truly be happy with your life at all,” a friend tells me philosophically.

Unnecessarily, I share my doubts with one more person: a younger friend, a translator. She immediately says she understands me perfectly, and she’d feel exactly the same as I do.

Fortunately she won’t turn 40 until two years from now. She smiles.

“Oh, no,” she says, genuinely sad. “Actually it’s a year and a half.”


I’ve finally realized that regardless of whether I decide to celebrate my birthday or to sabotage it, by the time this column is published I’ll be a 40-year-old.

And I’m sure I’ll soon find out whether this existential unease, powerlessness in taking simple decisions and bothering everybody around me (including “Przekrój” readers) with my 40th was still a youthful or even infantile immaturity, or already a mid-life crisis.

I’ll let you know.

Rawpixel, Flickr (CC BY 4.0)
Rawpixel, Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

Translated from the Polish by Nathaniel Espino

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