At the Age of 40

The other day was a special anniversary for me. It’s the day I took the last exam of my Bachelor’s of Science program. A few days later, I walked across a stage and was handed an empty (if impressive) folder. A few weeks after that, the most expensive piece of paper I’ve ever owned showed up in the mail. 

And it went back further than that. The whole thing had started more than twenty years before the moment I stood in the disused stairwell, having chosen to take the back stairs and avoid people as I came out of that exam. I knew I was emotional and I’d never want to make a show of my inner turmoil in public. It had been a long four and half year journey. There had been heartache, and struggle, and at last, long last… I was about to take the first step into a new life when the paper opened doors I’d never been able to step through before. 

And now? Five years after that day, and my fortieth year? I had a fuzzy picture of what life would look like once I had my degree. I’d get a job in a lab (and I did a few months later). I’d make enough money to support my family (and I did, three years later). Beyond that? I didn’t – and couldn’t possibly! – see what I see now. That I’d finally break out of the analytical and technical rut my first lab job put me into, and finally get into a research and development position. That I’d be paid to play in the lab, inventing new things, and reading every day. That it would not only be an R&D lab, but my lab. My domain. That I’d be in a position to make a big difference to a small company. It’s a heavy responsibility, but my peculiar mix of talents makes me a unique fit. 

I couldn’t have foreseen this. I’m kind of glad I didn’t have that foresight, really. It would have made some of the last couple of years even harder to endure, knowing that there was light, but I had to be patient. For a long time I’d just put my head down, back to the wind, and slogged through. I’m not so optimistic as to think that time couldn’t come again… but for right now I’m walking in sunshine and the job is a joy. 

Thing is, it’s not that I’m terribly smart or anything. What I am, is stubborn. I decided the best way to take care of my little family (I had no illusions about anyone else being helpful with raising my kids and keeping food in their bellies, a roof over their heads, and clothes on them) was to get a degree. So I went and I got it. Looking back, I had other options. They wouldn’t have me here, now, and they wouldn’t have put me in the place where I could seamlessly step into the breadwinner role when the First Reader abruptly retired at the onset of Covid (unrelated, although he likely would have gone back to work had the lockdowns not dragged on and on). Without the skills and the education, I wouldn’t be where I am. No regrets there! 

I see people ask from time to time ‘am I too old…’ and as a matter of fact, I’ve asked that. The answer is both yes, and no. There are things in this life that expire when you reach a certain age. By the time I could do so, I was too old to serve in the military, a regret I will have until my dying day. On the other hand, about six or seven years ago I decided I wanted to find my inner artist. Years of making art every day later… I’m publishing children’s stories I illustrated, and other fun projects. I’m not a talented artist. I’m simply practiced and persistent. So no, you are not too old to get a degree (although if you just want an education there are far better options) or to start writing or become an artist… 

I’ll keep persisting, too. I wonder what I’ll say when I look back in another five years. Or ten? Or thirty-five when I’m 80 and I’ve doubled my life’s work from that day when I stood in the stairwell trying not to cry because I had achieved a great thing? It wasn’t the end. It was an end, and a beginning, and there are more yet to come. 



6 responses to “At the Age of 40”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard Avatar
    Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    At the age of 67, I’d say you’re just a youngster. 😉

    1. I’ve got some time to catch up!

  2. Age is a number. I didn’t start writing the book that would be my first finished novel until I was 33 and I was 42 by the time I published my first book (totally not the same book). My husband didn’t go to college and get a degree until well into his 30s.

    You go, girl. You’ve rocked it so far and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

    1. It’s why I write about my aspirations and successes. It’s not ‘look at me’ it’s “look, if I managed to bumble my way through this, you can, too.”

      Age is how you feel, and feeling old is to some extent a choice. There is a lot of data that keeping your brain active helps keep you thriving longer.

  3. My mother left South Dakota State College in 1961, after her junior year, to get married. She started going back to school in the 70s, once her youngest was old enough to be looked after by his older brothers. She finished her BA at Wright State (you might have seen the campus) in 1979, and her MA in 1981. She told me that sometimes she felt like the old lady in the department, but eventually realized that the young grad students, for all their mastery of contemporary jargon, really didn’t know anything more than she did.

  4. My 20 year grad school reunion passed last year, unnoticed. I put so much less stock in that than I did in my BS. Graduating from undergrad was a milestone for me, a joy, that feeling you described, the ‘Holy cow, I did it. How did I do it?”
    90 minutes after defending my master’s thesis I was packing up my car and throwing all my stuff in a dumpster, just happy it was done. Funny, there’s no recapturing that particular feeling of accomplishment.