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A Pirate Looks at 40

A Pirate Looks at 40
Jimmy Buffett has a great tune called “A Pirate Looks at 40” and it seems like an appropriate motto to examine my own life at 40. Because as a child, playing pirates was imagining another world, a world where one needed to live off one’s own inventiveness and make one’s own rules. Both ideas are very attractive to a child, and still hold that attractiveness at 40.

I wish I had some great insights after 40 years of life, but mostly what I have are observations. If you don’t mind rambling reflections on a relaxed life, then read on…

First, I need to reveal a secret that everyone “old” knows but few people talk about. No matter what your age once you get past about age 30, you don’t feel it. While you may feel like an awkward teenager at age 15, most people don’t feel like a middle-aged or “old” man at age 40.

Our physical bodies give way when our mental and emotional selves still feel very much young, vigorous and as alive as when we were in our 20s. Perhaps this is due to the enhanced memories we have when we’re in our 20s. We’re still remembering life as it was when we were that age. It’s almost as if our memories somehow get “stuck” in that time period.

This may not be such a bad thing when you think about it. When we’re twenty, most of us are still more than a little inexperienced and perhaps a little naïve about life. But we’re young and the world seems like a tabula rasa, just waiting for us to make our imprint on it. It’s a good time, one of new exploration and experimentation for most of us, of finding our way in the world and understanding where we fit in.

Life is full of joy and pain and the pain is always shorter than you think it’s going to be (except when you’re in the middle of it – then it feels endless). The joy is probably also shorter than you’d like it to be, but it’s long enough to remind us why we’re alive.

Life is also full of all types of people, both good and bad, and I’ve met my share of both. The good you keep and they stick with you through thick and thin. The bad you often find out about just a little too late, but hopefully not too late to end your association with them. Both sets of people can teach us things. Things about the world, things about ourselves, and things about what others value in us.

A lot of people go through life trying to avoid pain, disappointment and hurt. I think that’s a lousy way to live, because you’re focused on what you don’t want to do. Instead, I found it more helpful to focus on what I do want to do. In fact, once I’ve set my mind to do something, I often do it regardless of whether I think it’s going to be a success or not.

But while you shouldn’t live life simply trying to avoid pain, you shouldn’t run away from it either. Painful experiences teach us valuable lessons; I know that sounds like absolute rubbish, but it’s still true. I don’t mean we should all look to try and suffer through horrible childhoods, but rather that when pain does come in our life (and it’s inevitable that it does), we shouldn’t shut ourselves off from those feelings. Difficult times teach us the meaning of life and help us find our own inner strength. You unlikely to find your strength and life’s meaning if you’re never challenged and always just live a safe and protected existence. (Tell me it’s tripe, it’s been said before… But truisms get their label for a reason.)

Which isn’t to say I’d like to re-live my life over again, or would do things differently. Every difficult time I’ve gone through has taught me something – something I may have never learned otherwise. Without those lessons, I may not have gotten to the place I am today.

When I was 10 years younger, I had regrets. But not any more. I’ve learned that life is for living right now and looking forward to your future, not reliving your past and your past mistakes. I now realize that every decision I made – for better or worse – led me on the specific path to get me to where I am today.

I also understand something now very important I had no understanding of at 20 — the quiet value of compromise. Compromise is a far more flexible and powerful tool than most people realize, especially when we’re young. We think, “Compromise? Meh… That’s for people who don’t know what they want or are sell-out’s or can’t stand up for what they believe in.” The truth is that compromise shows strength of character and is a key to successful relationships of virtually any kind.

But as in all things in a good life, compromise must be done in moderation. Too much, and you become a push-over for others. Too little, and you’re close-minded and selfish.

And while I’m thinking of it, moderation cannot be stressed enough either. We get ourselves into so much trouble when our lives become out of balance. Moderation in all things. It’s been repeated since the ninth century B.C. in ancient Greece because the sooner we learn this particular lesson of life, the happier our lives will be.

I now try to look at every new opportunity with an open mind and fewer preconceptions. I am a better student than I have ever been in my life (especially than when I was in school), hungry for new knowledge and understanding. Not just about “things,” but about myself, my own meaning, the infinite connections we make in this world, and how they all fit together.

Everyday when I awake, I realize something I never understood when I was 20 – I know virtually nothing. The sum of all of my life’s knowledge and experience could fit onto the head of a single pin in a great land of a million haystacks.

So I embrace 40 like a newborn child – a child playing pirates, if you will — in many ways, looking at the world through eyes that now know better, but still know so very little. Living life more day to day than I have ever lived in the past. And very much looking forward to what the next 40 years have to offer.

* * *

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the never-ending love and support of my family, my dear friends spread out across the country, and my fabulous wife Nancy. Their constant friendship and fellowship help keep me sane, grounded, and serve as a constant reminder to me of the great beauty and love in this world. As do the thousands of members who go to make up the thriving self-help groups we host here, our Forums and NeuroTalk communities. Thank you all! 🙂

A Pirate Looks at 40

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). A Pirate Looks at 40. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Sep 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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