Phillip Smith
covering

Getting there is easy, just avoid dying and don't drink too much

Reflections on turning 40

In six days, I will be forty. 

It’s all a bit anticlimactic, because I’ve already lived – survived in style, in fact – the fortieth year of my life, and April 25th just marks the conclusion. 

My stepfather used to tell me with annoying frequency “you’ll be dead before you’re thirty,” and I’m gloating now, already having outlived that estimate by twenty-five percent, knowing that he must be turning over in his grave knowing this (his fate having been a heart-attack just a few months into his retirement).

I am alive. 

More than that, I can look myself in the eye and say “if I died tomorrow, I would die happy.” I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything. I live a blessed life and I have very, very few regrets. 

Having managed to actively avoid death this long, I thought I would turn my attention to other ambitions, like some directed personal exploration and experimentation. You know, um, trying new shit and “living on my learning edge,” as my west-coast friends would say.

One of the experiments was giving up alcohol for a few weeks. Not an earth-shaking sacrifice I admit, more so because I’m a light drinker (or at least that’s my take on it), but it has been five years, possibly more, since I put the drink on hiatus for any significant length of time.

The idea behind these experiments was to open up some greater opportunities for deeper reflection, contemplation even, on these last forty years of existence. I had a hunch that not drinking might help.

More than just removing a convenient distraction in life, it peeled back layers of crazy shit and forced me to stare down a number of complicated sides of myself that I wasn’t even aware of. 

For example, I think of myself as someone that loves to dine out alone: sitting at a bar and reading a book (so cliché, I know!). I realize now, however, that the glass of wine is my companion in this situation and that I’m not “alone” at all. Remove the wine, and I’d much rather eat at home. The list goes on, because – as one realizes very quickly in such an undertaking – much of the fabric of our lives is woven together by two things: working together and drinking together.

Of all the layers that got peeled back during the last three-and-a-half weeks, the most significant and surprising was the barrier between my mind and my heart. 

Those who’ve known me for a while probably experience me to be a fairly cool person (not cool like “hip,” but distant). I often think I have a “narrow emotional range,” I’m usually happy, rarely unhappy, rarely ecstatic, just nicely happy a majority of the time. I have always attributed this characteristic to a thin connection between mind and heart.

Take away the glass of wine with dinner, or the post-work beer, and – after a couple of weeks – that connection between my mind and my heart transformed from a trickling stream into a giant bursting-at-the-seams river, the kind that threatens to sweep you away if there’s too much rain. Not for many, many years have I experienced the type of emotion that actually grips me, forces itself to be acknowledged in the moment, and requires thoughtful attention – certainly not while simply sitting there having dinner by myself.

This was a surprise to me. Thankfully, a pleasant surprise. 

Getting to re-know myself over the last few weeks has been eye-opening. I’ve been able to recognize how important my connections to other people are, and how profoundly powerful and informative the connection is between the mind and the heart is, when eventually pried open.

So, in summary, getting to forty is relatively easy: just avoid dying and don’t drink too much.

About

Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.

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