turning forty

m. werneburg, 2013.03.03

So it's happened, I've turned forty. Some enormous changes have come with it, and while there are new challenges I have to say: so far so good.

turning forty in interesting times

My 40th birthday came about ten weeks after we came to Canada, fleeing the economic instability in Japan. And only a matter of days before the great Tohoku earthquake in that country.

On the day, I celebrated with my just-turned-three-year-old son, my wife, and some close family. A quiet affair for a suddenly quiet time of life.

That year turned out to be a fairly difficult one. The process of acquiring Mari's permanent residence visa was an unexpectedly—and unnecessarily!—opaque and slow ordeal that took a ten month bite out of our lives. She couldn't work, and she couldn't go to school. Compounding the shift to her first foreign land, she was sidelined! And then she became pregnant, with no health insurance.

It didn't take me long to realize that I was going to have to start living according to a plan. I would have vomited at the idea of living according to a plan, back in my twenties. All I wanted in those days was to see something of the world, to learn all I could while doing fun things like software development, and to find the girl of my dreams. And I did those things.

But now it's about the kids. Providing for a family by relying on the vagueries of an IT career wasn't going to cut it anymore; I'd burned through half of my working career already, and while I'd chosen a life less ordinary I certainly saw a gap between my skill set and what the job market of the future was going to need. The days of greybeards in IT are over. I wasn't going to be able to rely on an IT career to see us through. So in the months following my 40th birthday, Mari and I sat down and put together a plan.

The first thing I did was take an introductory Marketing class, with an eye to taking a certificate in business administration. But that turned out to be a bit too introductory; I'd need something with a bit more meat.

At the same time, I was finding success in the risk management work I was doing. I was certainly having more of an effect on my small employer than I would in an IT capacity. Deciding I wanted to learn more, I turned to some industry contacts and hit upon a new strategy. One that would earn some much-needed credentials. And keep me in school for more than five long years. I'd start with the ubiquitous project management certification, the PMP; then I'd complete an internal audit certification; then an MBA, where I'll take all of the risk management electives I can.

It's now been two years since my 40th birthday, and living the life that would have made younger me vomit is coming along just fine. I did the PMP, I'm halfway through the CIA, and I've found an MBA program that I can afford and that suits my hectic schedule. I go to "networking functions" with the associations I've joined. I've learned an enormous amount.

It's paying off at work, where I'm scaling new heights. And I've been asked to sit on a panel of experts at a risk management convention, and I've contacted the president of an industry association about writing a book. And I've found that having a long term plan is great for overcoming the little struggles at work—they all seem trivially short-term. As I said; so far, so good.

Meanwhile, Mari's decided that what she needs is a business plan. Toronto may be a city of immigrants but it's not a city that value foreign experience. With no Canadian work experience, and with an immigrant's imperfect English, she's not going to be able to just slot into some employer in this market. So we're working on a plan that she can pursue from home as little Emma starts to get a bit older.

falling apart

One thing I didn't expect to come so soon was the raft of changes to my body. I needed a new prescription for my glasses this year: the strength bumped up fully 25%! And I'm scheduled for orthodontic surgery all of a sudden; it seems that I've got thin gums and after years of being told I have great teeth I've now got some exposed roots. And I can no longer do my daily push-ups without first doing stretches, or my neck and shoulder muscles will seize up and I'll get a migraine. And my back; it now hurts in no fewer than three places.

How did this happen to once-invincible me? Um, right, I've been toodling about since 1971, that's how. My son's doctor doesn't remember the cold war; I remember stuff that half the population is too young to have seen. I'm middle-aged!

Still, getting old beats the alternative.

too busy for friends

In Tokyo, in my late thirties, I had an active social life and several friends: probably more than I'd had at any other time in my life. Now I'm back in "work makes free" Toronto, and I don't see my few friends in the city very much (who has time to get together in busy, congested Toronto?). But it's great knowing that they're doing the things they want to do with themselves. They've settled into the sort of work they want to do, several having changed their work quite radically from earlier years. Like me, several have gone back to school. Some are raising kids, and the children mostly seem to have come relatively late in our lives—I see a lot of fellow greying forty-somethings watching four year olds run around in the parks. A few are really making their mark in their profession, those years of effort paying off. Everyone's insanely busy, but living with purpose.

On the whole, it's good. Yes, I'm middle-aged. And I like it.

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