I turn 40 this week. That’s right. The big 4-0. A real live milestone birthday.
I’m not concerned though. Let’s face it. I’ve always been 40. And turning it certainly beats the alternative of never getting there. But it means a few things. I should be a little grayer and wiser. Maybe a little more comfortable with myself. But most significantly turning 40 means that I’m halfway there. Right smack in the middle of what I hope will be a long, productive and meaningful existence on this crazy earth of ours. Whatever the hell meaningful means, is another essay altogether. But here I am. At the halfway post. It’s a fine time to reflect.
If you’re my age, that means that the first six years of your life was spent in between releases of the original Star Wars movies. Which means that every birthday and Christmas the thing that you got more of than anything was Star Wars toys. It was a glorious time to be alive.
It also means that Ronald Regan was your president from the time you were three until junior high. And his pal George was next. You lived all of your memory from the time you had one to the time you actually started to understand and care a little bit with the same types of folks running the government. And by types I mean old white men of strong character preaching conservative values. And living them, for the most part.
Video game consoles showed up during our youth. And cable TV. And VCRs. As much as I remember playing alone with the kids in the neighborhood until the street lights came on, I remember playing Super Mario Brothers or watching the same eight movies over and over on the lone HBO channel all summer. I still remember almost every line from Nine to Five. Or Airplane. Or Johnny Dangerously. Though I’m not sure how my poor mom thought those were fine for a second grader to watch.
I went to high school when it seemed nothing in the world could ever go wrong. And when I went to college, I was the first class at the United States Naval academy to have internet on my computer in my room. And the wiring to boot. People turning 40 this week were the first kids to go to college for all four years with the internet. We’ve never been adults in an unconnected world.
When I graduated we went to war. And we’ve been there ever since. Sixteen years now. Most of our 20’s. All of our 30s. I did three deployments. I have friends who’ve done ten. And I have others who never came back from their first. Or who couldn’t go on anymore after they stopped because you never really stop, when it’s all you know. No generation in American history has been through the same.
The economy and stock market have crashed twice in the fifteen years since any of us have been old enough to care about the economy or the stock market. We had a tech bubble. And a housing bubble. And the entire financial industry as we knew it collapsed when we turned 30, when some of us actually started making enough money to invest a little. We bought homes that are worth half of what we paid for them. And we still have college debt. At 40.
The first president elected to office after we were old enough to run for that office was Donald J. Trump. You can try and sell me that’s a good thing. But if it turns out to be, then it won’t be on purpose. His supporters hope he’s not crazy. His opponents are convinced he is. But no one rational feels great about it. In those quiet alone times when we’re honest with ourselves, a hopeful concern is the best we can muster.
For the first twenty years of adulthood, society kind of happens to you. You don’t control much. You aren’t in charge yet. You have a voice. But in order to get what you want, others have to listen to you. The most power that you have is what you and others like you decide to buy. Or what you decide is cool. So in some not insignificant way, you drive the aesthetics of your culture. But the serious stuff comes later. The leadership and patriarchy. That’s all later.
For me, later is now.
My classmates from Annapolis are starting to take over as Commanding Officers of SEAL Teams and ships of war and F-18 squadrons. Those like me that left to lead in the private sector are climbing into the executive ranks. And those who hung out their shingle early and started a business are becoming the powerhouses in their domains. We’re not all the way to the top yet. Some of the last generation are still hanging around trying to tell us their generation’s excess and lack of discipline is ok, despite all evidence to the contrary. But they’re on their way out the door. If they haven’t left already.
My generation is about to wander into something now that we haven’t had before. We have the floor. And even more than that, we have the obligation to lead. And for the next 20 years, we’ve got no one else to blame but ourselves any more.
So a week out from the superficial halfway milestone in the narrative that is a life, I’ve got some advice for those that get there with me.
Stop worrying about making America Great again. And get to work on making your part of it better. Go hire people that don’t look like you. Create corporate environments that don’t make people choose between family or work. Go build a financial industry that fuels real industry instead of pushing bullshit synthetic securities around for a profit. Go tell the board you want to make things and employ people instead of chase double digit growth every year. Go figure out how to keep the lights on without burning old dead things.
If politics is your thing, then good. Turn off the cable TV. Read a book. And be conservative. Or be progressive. Or be neither. But stop getting your opinion from TV and social media and get it from the world around you. And stop lying to yourself about the way things are. Things are neither one way nor another. They are a million different ways in a million different places. And yours is not to seek those that agree with your horseshit opinion about some made up definable universe that doesn’t exist. Yours is to lead through the world in front of you with the real people who have real problems that do exist.
And for God’s sake. Stop being so damn scared of everything. There is no safe. None of us are safe. We never have been and we never will be. Life is a hammer. And if you’re going to live it, it’s going to beat the hell out of you. No government, no law, president, no husband, no wife, no job, will save you from it. So go out there and live it. And make it better for others. Because it’s not about you. It’s about what you leave behind.
And we’re half dead already.
We’ve got 20 years left. 20 years before we don’t matter anymore en masse as a force for change. And we’re on the clock.
Happy birthday to us.