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40 Men on Turning 40: What Modern Men Feel About Reaching Middle Age

We asked 40 men who have recently — or are about to — turn 40 to reflect on the milestone. Here's what they said.

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Feb 10 2020, 7:24 PM

Climbing higher in years means you’re eventually going to have to look over the hill, which is an intimidating proposition for most men. And no age bears as much weight as 40. In the larger cultural narrative, turning 40 is signaled by crisis. Ferraris might be purchased. Divorces might be finalized. Freak outs might occur. But, as we’ve previously discussed, the midlife crisis is more of an exercise in good branding than an actual phenomenon. Are there men who arrive at the age of 40 and succumb to these cliches and experience a general restlessness that is met with rash decisions? Of course. But each man arrives at the age of 40 with his own unique perspective. 

While there are certainly men who dread turning 40, there are others who welcome it, embrace it, and roll with it. All men have something to look back, reminisce, and reflect on some of their life’s best and worst decisions with the benefits of both wisdom and that last potent bit of youthful energy. So what do men think about turning 40? Fatherly spoke to 40 men. Some are about to turn 40. Some just did. And some have been wearing it comfortably for a few years. All of them shared what turning 40 has meant — or will mean —  to them, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Here’s what they said. 

My priorities changed

“‘Hip To Be Square’ is basically my new life motto. I went from some pretty punk rock years to a suit, tie, and well-balanced breakfast. And, at first, I had a major identity crisis about it all. I thought I was ‘selling out.’ But, that’s not even close. I got married, I had kids, I became all these things to people I love, and I just shifted my priorities. They’re my priorities now. So, everything I do – eating healthy, working hard, being responsible – is about them. I’ve gotta take care of myself, so I can take care of them. Huey Lewis would be so proud.” – John, 40, Florida

I’m gaining confidence

“If you knew me when I was in high school, and college, and my 20s and early 30s, you’d know that I never had much confidence. I was shy, doubtful, and generally hesitant to take any kind of risk. But, as I’m close to turning 40, I feel like I’ve been hit with a huge burst of YOLO. I might be late to the party, but I feel like I’m finally finding my place in the world. I’m not going to sell all my possessions and backpack across Rwanda or anything, but I’m starting to realize that it’s my life, my choices and, ultimately, my regrets.” – Jordan, 39, Ohio

I’m done with drama

“I’m about to turn 40, and I’m proud of how many people I’ve cut off from my life. That sounds harsh, but let me explain. At our age, it’s time to figure out who’s good for you, and who’s bad for you. And I’m talking about those supporting characters you ‘sort of’ know who really do more harm than good, even if it’s unintentional. Time is so precious when you’re this old, and you can’t waste it on people who suck your life away. The coworker who constantly complains. All the social media braggarts and phonies. I’m proud of myself for being able to recognize them, and even more proud for having the spine to stop engaging with them before it wastes any more of my time.” – Stephen, 39, Maryland

I’m embarrassed less easily

“I’m amazed at how much doesn’t faze me anymore. I’m not talking about decent self-awareness, but those little blunders or faux pas that would’ve absolutely ruined my day and triggered my anxiety even, like, five years ago. I’m in school right now, trying to get a second degree, and I’m in classes with all these college kids. They’re so hesitant to answer the professor’s questions because they don’t want to be singled out by their classmates, or they’re unsure of themselves. I raise my hand every time because I want to get class moving, and get the hell out of there. I’ve got places to be, ya know? I’ve got a family. I don’t give a shit who calls me a ‘nerd’ or points and whispers in the dining hall. Sorry, kids. I don’t have time to be embarrassed anymore.” – Robert, 39, Pennsylvania

I’m finally good at saying “No.”

“Someone told me a while ago that ‘No’ is a complete sentence. What she meant was that you can say it without having to follow up with any sort of reason, justification, or attempt to explain yourself. I heard that for the first time about five years ago, and I think I’m finally good at it. It took a lot of practice, over many years, but now I’m able to use it tactfully, respectfully, and confidently to keep my priorities in order. More often than not, people are impressed by it. They’re like, ‘Wow. I didn’t know you could do that. Can I steal that?’” – Jerry, 40, New Jersey

I’m hopeful

“My 20s and 30s were mostly hopeless. I may have been overdramatic during those years, but there was a lot going on in my life that just seemed so insurmountable and shitty, which made me feel pretty hopeless more often than not. As I hit 40, I’m grateful to be able to say that a lot of things have fallen into place. I met my now-wife, we got married, we had a daughter. I’m digging my work. I’m feeling better about myself. And all that happened within the last three years. I reflect on my 20s and 30s, and I don’t fault myself for how I felt, but now I have a little more perspective and faith that things will turn out exactly how they’re supposed to, even if you have to wait for what seems like forever.” – Tim, 39, Michigan

I live more intentionally

“When I was 35, I started trying to live my life with more purpose. I’m not sure how to elaborate on that, other than to say I tried not to waste time when I made plans, decisions, or steps forward. I wasn’t reckless, but I didn’t waste time fretting over stuff I couldn’t control which, for years and years, kept me from doing a lot. As I’m turning 40, I realize how much control I have over the pace at which I live my life. That’s not to say it’s always, ‘Go! Go! Go!’ But it’s a much more realistic approach to wasted time becoming a huge potential regret in the future.” – Jay, 39, Virginia 

I’m worried about meeting someone

“Dating is hard. Dating in my 20s, 30s, and now 40s…it’s just always been difficult. And, honestly, I’m worried that 40, or at least my 40s, are going to be my last shot at finding companionship. I’ve had a lot of terrible, unhealthy relationships, which have all probably warped my self-image and my opinion of dating beyond repair. But, despite that, I still try to remain open minded and hopeful. Maybe that’s because dating after 40, to me, feels like the last Hail Mary before I have to revisit the idea that I might just be one of the people who ends up single. I guess we’ll see.” – Austin, 39, Colorado

I’m terrified of the state of the world

“I don’t reveal this to a lot of people, but I can recall at least three times in the past year where I’ve broken down crying at the state of the world. I have two kids — two boys — and I’m at the point where I don’t know what to tell them about this shitstorm we’re all living in. My life so far has had its share of tragedy and unfortunate world events, but this all feels different. The politics going on, the environment, and just this culture of blaming and casting stones makes me feel so…guilty. I feel guilty for having kids because, one day, they’re going to be a part of this messed up ‘real world’. It’s a sobering thought when I consider what I hoped for when we brought them into the world, versus what we’re actually dealing with now. As a parent, comfort comes in the form of certainty — anything you can be absolutely certain about is like emotionally reassuring gold. And I haven’t felt that way about our world in a long, long time.” – Jason, 40, Texas

I’m finally ready to have a family

“I know, I know. I took my sweet ass time, and put myself in a really unfortunate position as it relates to becoming a father. I learned a few things, though, as I waited to pull the trigger, most importantly that the reason I was waiting — that is, to be ready — never really comes for anyone. No one. No one is ever really ready, no matter how prepared they are. I think that’s the big thing I’ve learned, the difference between being prepared, and being ready. You can prepare all you want – that’s kind of what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years. But, you’ll never get that magic affirmation you’re hoping for that says, ‘You’re ready!’ A lot of stars have to align to become a parent, and I’m hoping all of mine haven’t burned out. If they have, I’ll be sad, but this will be a lesson learned for the rest of my life. Waiting for the right moment passes a lot of time.” – Dominic, 40, Kentucky

I feel like I’m running a marathon

I’ve actually run a few marathons. The second half is always the most unpredictable. Sometimes things go smoothly and you finish without much trouble. Other times you cramp up, trip, fall, and maybe puke or shit your pants. I’ve seen a lot. My point is that the same people who prepare for, like, years to run these marathons are the ones who will trip over a small rock, roll their ankle, and break a leg. Or it’ll rain, and the shoes they’ve trained with for years won’t be able to handle a little slickness. Life itself doesn’t seem to take kindly to our plans, so as I hit the stride of my “second half”, I’m not going to assume that anything will make explicit sense toward the finish line. If it did, it wouldn’t be real life.” – Max, 40, Connecticut  

I’m physically exhausted

“I just find myself so, so tired all the time. I expected a little decrease in stamina when I turned 40, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t like someone swiped a battery right out of my back. I come home from work, and I’m sitting in an easychair, falling asleep, like a sitcom dad. I always thought Al Bundy was awesome, but now I’m turning into him and I realize the error of my ways. I don’t know how to combat this. I’m not going to roll over, though. Diet will change. I’ll exercise. Maybe I’ll start Crossfitting or whatever. I joke, but I don’t want to be the “tired guy” for the rest of my life. I guess 40 is shaping up to be my first real test.” – Ray, 40, Missouri

I’m ready to evolve

“My life has been good. It’s been great, really. I have a great family, a good job, and really nothing to complain about. And I think most guys in this situation feel stagnant, bored, and panicky. Some even do a complete 180 and throw it all away in search of “something new”. That’s not me. Instead, I want to evolve. I want to become the next best me. I really want to discuss this abstract thought with my wife, and try to make it actionable. Because, if I’m not getting better, I’m getting worse. And, all things considered, I’ve got less guaranteed time on Earth than I did yesterday, you know? So it’s time to evolve, survive, and thrive. Whatever that means…” – Carson, 39, Louisiana 

I’m going to get my first tattoo.

“It was a simple proposition  — I chose a tattoo when I was 37 and, rather than rush out to get it inked immediately, I decided to wait until the day I turn 40 to see if I still think it’s a good idea, and get it done as a present to myself. The image is a character from a children’s book my mother used to read to me all the time. So, it’s not just some dumb barbed wire or Japanese symbol wrapped around my bicep. It’s personal. The meaning behind it, the sentimentality, and the fact that I still think it’s a solid idea after all these years all point to ‘Strap me in the chair, and get the needle ready.’ I’m 40 now. I’m a big boy. I can take it.” – Nick, 39, Toronto

I’m as young as I’m ever going to be.

“This is as much a scientific fact as it is a motivational quote. Today, I’m as young as I’ll ever be. Right now? Ten seconds later? I’m not that young anymore. But, I’m currently as young as I’ll ever be. Get it? The main realization I’ve stumbled upon as I prep to turn 40 is that the passage of time can’t be stopped, but it gives us the opportunity to say, ‘I’m the youngest, wisest version of myself on the planet today’ every second of every day. If you can grab one or two of those seconds, and turn that motivation into something positive, you’re doing good things with all of the seconds you have left. I’ve learned that, in the grand scheme, there aren’t many of those precious seconds left. And if a corny motivational quote I heard at Soulcycle inspires me to reach for the greatness in myself, and those precious seconds, then I’m in good shape for 40 and beyond.” – Terry, 40, New York

I’m going to quit my job

“I’m going to quit. That’s my prediction. In fact, if things work out, I might be able to actually quit on the day I turn 40. I’ve been there for years and years and years. It’s this shitty advertising company that, quite frankly, I’m better than. I’m willing to work with them, though, to try and generate some opportunities for compromise. So, we’re meeting at noon on my 40th birthday. I’ll definitely go in open minded, and willing to listen, but if things don’t work out in a way I feel will result in meaningful change, I’m walking. And I’ll sing ‘Happy Birthday’ all the way out the door. Welcoming 40 with that type of confidence will keep me going for a while, and will lead to much, much better things. I’m excited.” – Jack, 39, Ohio

I feel experienced

“I bounced around in careers for a while until I landed my most recent job, where I’ve been for about five years. I’m not an expert at what I do but, for the first time, I feel genuinely experienced and capable. That sounds like a simple thing, but in the context of my career journey, it means a lot. I feel like I’ve finally found a niche, so to speak, where even though I’m still learning, I command respect for the knowledge and skill I do have. It was never an issue of becoming the best at it, but rather a confident version of myself who is capable of demonstrating a very specific intelligence. It feels great, and it’s definitely not something I recall ever feeling before 40. I guess I was playing the long game without even knowing it. Touche, life.” – Kevin, 40, Minnesota 

Life is kind of making sense.

“As I’m nearing 40, I feel like I’m beginning to be able to put the giant puzzle that is my life together. So, like, the other day I heard some news that a girl I dated years ago basically turned to the Dark Side. I won’t get into specifics, but I loved this girl. Was ready to marry this girl. But forces just kept it from happening, no matter how hard I tried. Fast forward to today, and now I see why. It would’ve been an absolute trainwreck of epic proportions. That’s a pretty big example, but all sorts of others – big and small – have been popping up in ways that make me go, ‘Aha! Now I understand why that thing did (or didn’t) happen.’ When something like that happens, you can’t help but believe in a higher power, pulling the strings, and guiding you where you ultimately need to be. Now that I’m older, I’m going to start living with a lot more trust, and a lot less resistance.” – AJ, 39, Missouri 

I feel motivated

“I think it’s partly because I’m terrified of hitting middle age, but I also feel like I have a lot more energy than I did a few years ago. Maybe not ‘more’ energy, but definitely a different kind of energy. I feel like, as I turn 40, I’ve got the combination of knowledge, confidence, and experience to really start to make things happen. I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished so far, but I really do feel like my best days are still ahead. Thinking back to my 20s and 30s, I can’t ever imagine myself saying that, so it’s pretty cool.” – Shawn, 39, Oregon

It’s helped put things into perspective

“I used to get bummed out and upset by the littlest things. Just really stupid, trivial things that, in the grand scheme, didn’t even matter. I’m not immune to those feelings, but turning 40 has helped put a lot of those little annoyances in perspective. Like, do I really want to spend a significant amount of time being pissed off in traffic? Or holding a grudge for something that happened a month ago? I’ve gotten mu ch, much more skilled at allowing those initial feelings to happen, then dismissing them really quickly. Hopefully the lack of stress from all that trivial nonsense will stave off some wrinkles and gray hair for a little bit longer.” – Phil, 40, Arizona

I’m eager for knowledge

“I find myself just thirsting for knowledge these days. Like, I want to know everything about everything. Maybe it’s because I realize how easy it is to learn something. Growing up, there was no Google. No YouTube. No forums. So learning a new skill, or information about a new topic was a time commitment that could last days or weeks. Now, it’s like I can go online and find out literally anything about anything in seconds. So, I’ll find myself asking questions, or wanting to learn how to do something, and I don’t waste any time. At this point in my life, I have no good reason not to learn as much as I can.” – Brent, 40 New York

I can’t party like I used to

“I thought I’d be able to hang a lot longer than I have, but I’m pretty confident in saying that I can’t really hang anymore. I could always hold my own when I’d get together and drink with friends, but the last few times have honestly sidelined me for at least a day and a half. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a family, and I’m not brutalizing my body as much as I used to when I was in my 20s and early 30s. I’ve gone soft. Luckily, my friends are all starting to feel the same thing, so I’m not the only one.” — Ryan, 39, Tennessee

I can party like I used to

“I’m amazed to say that I can still party like I did when I was young, even if the opportunities are few and far between. I’m married and we have two kids, so there aren’t really that many chances to let loose. But, on those rare occasions, I’ve still been able to power through and come out the next day feeling like a million bucks. I’m not sure if it’s something worth celebrating, because I’m definitely far removed from that phase of my life. But it’s still a badge of honor I’m happy to wear at 40, and one less thing to worry about for now.” – Mark, 40, California 

I’m unsure of my “legacy”

“I have three kids, and I’m starting to wonder exactly what I’m going to leave behind when I die. Not physically, but what will I have taught them that carries them through their lives in, hopefully, meaningful ways. They’re still relatively young now, so it’s not like I can have too many deep, poignant discussions about that sort of thing. And, by the time they can comprehend what I’m talking about, I worry that I’ll be too nervous or embarrassed to ask. I guess I’m just going to have to keep doing my best – which I’ve always done – and hope that they’re learning a few good things they’ll always remember.” – Alan, 40, Minnesota

I’m dreading my “exam”

“This is silly, but the main thing on my mind about turning 40 is how terrified I am of my prostate exam. I have no rational reason to be scared, but I think the notion of the physical exam, combined with what it could reveal, combined with the sort of unofficial ‘Welcome to 40’ notification that it sends is all just weighing on my mind way, way more than it should. I’ve never heard any horror stories, nor do I have any reason to be nervous. But, hey, you asked.” – Gene, 39, New Hampshire

I thought I’d have more money than I do

“Not ‘poor’, per se. But, I definitely thought I would have a lot more money than I do as I’ve entered my 40s. I’ve done well for myself, but I’ve never really had an opportunity to save the way I thought I would. I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck, but I’m not sitting on a big nest egg either. It’s all going back to student loans, car payments, bills and, as of a few years ago, divorce lawyers. I guess I just didn’t correctly anticipate the nature of those expenses when I was a wide-eyed 20-year-old, planning my future.” – Erik, 41, Virginia

I’m excited to buy my first house

“A lot of my friends my age are already on their second houses. One is on his third. I’ve been saving and saving for almost ten years, and I’m finally ready to buy my own house. The fact that all of my friends have houses really doesn’t faze me. I’m happy for them. But it was always a reminder that I’d failed to do something I’d always wanted to because of some bad decisions when I was younger. Now, it almost feels like more of an accomplishment, because I really had to scrape and save every last penny to be in this position. It’s the perfect 40th birthday present.” – Jeremiah, 39, North Carolina

I’m taking a risk to celebrate

“I’ve never been a huge fan of traveling internationally. I just never really had the bug. When my wife and I got married last year, she convinced me to open up to the idea because she loves to travel. We agreed on Japan to celebrate our 40th birthdays because she’s never been, and I always said that if there was one place I’d want to go, that would be it. I’m extremely nervous — I’m not a good flyer. But I’m hoping this will be something I enjoy, and something we’ll be able to do more together as we grow old together.” – Jay, 40, Oregon 

I’m living much calmer

“When I turned 40, I got the routine physical and found out my blood pressure was really high. That was a blessing, because it inspired me to try and live a much, much calmer lifestyle. I try to ‘choose my stress’ now, which just means that I realize I only have room in my life for so much of it that I have to be picky when it comes to what I actually allow to weigh on my mind. So, occasional marital frustrations? Yes. Rush hour traffic? Nope. It’s helped my blood pressure, and my overall well-being for sure.” – Ron, 42, Pennsylvania

I accept and allow

“You can’t change people. It took me more than 40 years to learn that, even though it’s something we hear over and over every day. I go to a support group — I won’t say which one — and one of the other members there hit me with ‘accept and allow’ as it related to people who stress me off. You have to accept that they’re not going to change, and allow them to do what they do. You’re making a choice both times – first, to allow, then to accept – which is a powerful thing. I’m bummed it took so long to click for me, but better late than never, right?” – A.J., 43, California 

I’m kind of ashamed

“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting as I’m about to turn 40, and I’m really ashamed of some of the things I did in my life. During every decade, really – my teens, 20s, and 30s – I was just a different variation of the same little prick. In my teens, I was whiny. In my 20s, I was irresponsible. And in my 30s, I was selfish. Looking back is almost painful, but I know it took me a long, long time to figure out who I was and who I wanted to become. I’m there, now. Or, at least I’m closer. Who knows? Maybe when I turn 50 I’ll look back on my 40s and wince, too.” – Zach, 41, Indiana 

I’m done appeasing

“I’m a born people-pleaser, and it’s finally gotten old for me. I’ve spent so much time making my life about other people that I think I’ve really robbed myself of some personal growth. I think I’ll always be a helper, but as I’ve turned 40, I’m much more aware of how much helping is too much, what kinds of people take advantage of me, and what I can do to start putting myself first. It feels good. I’m sure a few people will be taken aback and upset when I don’t answer their beck and call, but those are the people I need to start distancing myself from anyway.” – Al, 40, Ohio

I’m getting a dog

“I’m a little embarrassed to say that it took me until I turned 40 to feel responsible enough for a dog, but it’s true. I’m not married, not really dating, but I have a house, a big yard, and the time to spend with it. I’ve always wanted a dog, but was always afraid it would tie me down. Who am I kidding? I was just looking for an excuse to be selfish. I’ve got my name and applications in at several adoption places, and I can’t wait to find a buddy to spend my midlife years with. It’ll be the best thing for both of us.” – Terry, 40, Washington 

I’m ready to blame the midlife crisis

“I’m not sure how long I’ll get away with it, but I can’t wait to start blaming my midlife crisis on all the stupid shit I do. I bet my wife will indulge me for a few months or so before she calls bullshit, but I’ve always wanted a sports car and a pinball machine in the basement. I’m not sure why a midlife crisis entitles me to these things, but I’m looking forward to asking for forgiveness rather than permission for once.” – Jeff, 38, California

I’m going to be four years sober

“Every year I spend sober is a huge accomplishment, and being able to say I’m four years in – almost to the day – on my 40th birthday is something I’m really proud of. There were times in my life when I wasn’t sure I’d even make it to 40. I definitely didn’t take care of myself with the future in mind. So, being able to celebrate these two huge milestones together, with the love and support of my wife, my kids, and my family, is something I’m really looking forward to.” – Jon, 39, New Jersey

I feel accomplished

“For the first time in my life, I feel like I can look back on what I’ve done in life and feel accomplished and satisfied. I’ve got a family. I’ve got my own business. I have friends. I’m a good person. These definitely aren’t the life goals I imagined in my 20s, but they’re the most fulfilling parts of my adult life, by far. When you’re young, you keep this imaginary checklist of all the things you want by the time you’re 40. Big house. Lots of money. Fancy car. All that. My list now feels a lot more real and meaningful, I’m happy to say.” – Bradley, 39, Ohio

I still have a lot to learn

“Almost every single day I’m reminded that almost everything I know is wrong, haha. I’m a very logical guy, so most of my thoughts and opinions are well thought out and pragmatic. But that’s not always how life is, and I’m starting to roll with those punches a little more these days. I used to get so frustrated when something I was sure to be true, or untrue, was proven otherwise. But now I realize that’s just life keeping me on my toes, and making my existence more meaningful. It’s not fun being wrong, but it’s definitely good for you.” – Charlie, 41, Oregon

It got me into shape

“My 30s were a trainwreck. I drank, I ate, and I spent most of that decade as a slob. When I turned 40, I got inspired by the untimely death of a cousin to reassess and change my ways while I still had the chance. And I’m happy I did. I quit drinking. Started eating right. Started exercising. Really, I started respecting life. When my cousin passed away, it was definitely a wake up call. We were about the same age, and pretty similar in the way we lived. I think cleaning up my act is a good way to honor his memory, and to make sure our family doesn’t have to go through that again.” – Michael, 43, Nevada 

I’m turning a new page

“I’ve got one more semester until I finish my program to become a licensed high school teacher. I know a lot of people my age who have gone back to school, and we’ve all felt the same two things: unimaginable terror at the beginning, and indescribable triumph at the end. I completely changed careers, and took a huge risk by doing it, and the payoff of graduating with a teaching license is going to be one of the most fulfilling, satisfying, happy moments of my life. I can’t wait.” – Collin, 38, Connecticut

I’m optimistic 

“I remember turning 30, and I was all doom and gloom. ‘It’s all downhill from here’ I would say. Just because that’s how I thought it went. But, honestly, my 30s were the best decade in my life, and gave me so much hope and momentum as I head into my 40s. There were challenges in my 30s, and there will be in my 40s, of course, but if there’s one thing my 30s taught me, it’s that I’m capable of overcoming a lot of stuff I never thought I would be, and that I’m much stronger and more equipped than I think I am. Heading into my 40s with that in mind really makes me hopeful and excited for the future.” – Kevin, 39, Kentucky