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Shit Gets Real At Forty

Dear Gentle Readers,

If you don't learn anything else from my many years of musings, learn this:

Shit gets real at forty.

No.  For real.

Here's what I mean:  If you are the average American, by the time you hit forty, your children are probably halfway to adulthood or in early adulthood.  You may be paying for their college education or trying to help them get established in a job or an apartment or anywhere that isn't your home.  And you may or may not be succeeding.  Or you may be stressing about how you will pay for their college education because, unlike when I came up, parents are more frequently having to take out private loans to pay for their children's educations.

If you are the average American, at forty your parents are probably alive but getting older.  You start to realize that they aren't immortal or invincible.  If they haven't planned for their retirement, you're justifiably concerned.  If they are infirm, you're more than concerned.  You're worried -- worried how long they can continue to live on their own and whether they will have sufficient health insurance to cover them.

If you are the average American, at forty you're staring down retirement within the next two and a half decades regardless of whether you have your own financial shit together, because time just marches on whether you have your shit together or not.  Even if you want to work past 67, you have to plan for the fact that you may not be healthy enough to do so.  If you are the average American, at forty you probably don't have enough set aside to retire by 67.  You may not even like your current job or your career path, but you're feeling vulnerable because you're officially within the group of workers subject to age discrimination.

In other words, at forty, you become the meaty center of a stress sandwich.

When I look at younger people in my family who are approaching or passing forty, I wonder if they really appreciate the position they're in and how they're on the clock to deal with what awaits them.

I got married five days before my fortieth birthday.  A month after my wedding,  I was officially unemployed.  After moving back and forth between practicing and teaching law with not much to show for it financially, I had to make a paradigm shift, as Black Man Not Blogging would call it.  The one thing I knew how to do was to get a state government job, like my parents and my material grandmother before me.  I consciously chose job security -- because you have to be an absolute idiot to get fired from a rank-and-file job with the State of California -- financial security, and a pension over career passion and excitement, at least for the short term.  Somehow, passion wasn't getting me where I wanted to be financially, and when I thought about how much I didn't have for retirement, I wasn't particularly excited.  I was willing to make some short-term sacrifices to get on the path to financial security and personal peace.  Over time, I was able to find a state government position that I enjoy with all the financial and retirement security I so sorely need.  It has come in handy.  I've been called to help out others financially, and I have been blessed to have been able to do so.

My advice to anyone who is staring down forty is this:  Stop.  Take stock of where you are, where you want to be, and who you are going to be responsible for.  Don't deny the truth of your situation, no matter how ugly it may be.  Be willing to make some sacrifices in the short term for long-term goals.  Be flexible.  I'm not saying dump your dreams, but be willing to find other ways to achieve them while shoring up your financial position and your retirement.  Assume that you won't have anyone to help you financially in old age, because that may in fact end up being the case.  If your current path isn't working for you financially or spiritually, find a different way.

Shit gets real at forty, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

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