Thoughts on Turning 40 (…and turning 74)

It’s weird for a channel that covers so much death and destruction, but I don’t actually think about my own mortality much. That’s not to say I don’t think about age. In fact I’ve always been obsessed with age, and the passage of time. “Can you believe that we’re 20!, 30?, 35!” etc. etc. But I’ve never really thought about the end much, just sort of assuming there would always be more time to do everything. Turning 40 certainly puts this sort of thing in perspective. Reading the obituaries of people with very full lives, just a decade or two older helps with that too.

So I’ve been a bit maudlin lately. But, as I point out in this video, turning 40 is also very helpful. It’s given me a bigger sense of my own frailty, but also a sense of my own power. I could certainly get hit by a bus tomorrow ( especially with the amount of bicycling I do in New York City), but how much life I have left is largely in my control. That’s a powerful thing. It’s also left me a little less obsessed with age as well. All the milestones have passed. What I do with the time left, and how much time I have left is largely up to me…

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hey there! Today is my 40th birthday…. Which is nuts.
I’m actually pretty cool with it. Over the past weeks I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with friends and family, and weirdly I’m generally OK with the whole thing. I’m certainly handling this birthday better than I did when I was 30 or 21.
But turning 40 is a milestone. Some see middle age as a time to reconcile yourself to giving up on certain ambitions, and learning to be content with what you have. This is not the way I see it. I mean I’m obviously now never going to play professional sports ball or anything, but I’ve got a lot of life left, and I can do some interesting stuff with it. Now that I’m a little older and saner I think I have more choices rather than fewer. As I go through this day, I keep thinking of two fractions.
One third and two thirds. I’m 40 years old. The maximum human life span is currently reckoned to be about 120 years. As of today, I could be just 1/3 of the way through my life. If I play my cards right, I could really just be getting started.
Unfortunately, I do not play my cards right. I quit drinking almost 15 years ago, which was great, but I used that reduction in calories to justify eating like a 19 year old into my late 30s. I go to McDonalds, eat a lot of pizza and movie popcorn and gleefully use a staggering array of Tobacco products.
So, for a guy of my size, I’m probably not 1/3 of the way through my life. In fact, If I continue the way I’ve been going, a heart attack in my 40s or 50s could be on the cards. I could be 2/3rds of the way through my life or even more. That’s kind of scary.
But that’s not the way I see it today. I think it’s pretty cool, actually. I get to make those choices. From this point on, I can make the decisions that extend or contract my lifespan. If I get that mid-40s heart attack I’ll have nobody to blame but myself. I get to decide what fraction of my life is over today. This has also gotten me thinking about a different sort of lifespan entirely.
In an important way, the world system is about to turn 74. On August 15th 1945 the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II. In all the time since, we have avoided another war between great powers. The world’s 20 richest countries have not fought each other. Don’t get me wrong, endless horrors have been committed in those 74 years, but we’ve been able to avoid a general war.
The conflict in Syria was horrible, killing tens of thousands of people in a year. Great power wars can do that in an afternoon. We are living through a miraculous period of peace. But it has a lifespan too. War will return. We get to decide when.
The fractions here are very different, but the principle is the same. Our great period of peace could just be getting started. If we play our cards right we could have centuries to go. Or the great peace could be in middle age, or even old age. We have probably got a decade or two before World War 3 becomes possible, but maybe not much more than that. We, as a planet, get to decide.
The experts assume that both lifespans in this video will come out on the short side. Most people give up on diet and exercise after a few weeks. Policy makers from Washington DC to Beijing and many places in between are working hard to brung about a new war sooner rather than later. But it doesnt have to be that way. We made it through the Cold War without nukes, and I personally know people who have made the lifestyle changes necessary to extend their lives. Anything is possible. We just have to make it so.
Thanks for watching, please subscribe, and if you would like to celebrate my 40th birthday by helping this channel work to expand all our lifespans, you can click on the Patreon link here to find out more about my crowdfunding thing. Thanks.