- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

"Forty is the old age of youth. Fifty is the youth of old age." Victor Hugo

Ah, the 40s. It's that decade of starting late or giving up early, of midlife crisis and menopause; that in-between stage that is neither beginning nor end. All but the very last of the baby boomers have entered their fourth decade. Some, like Princess Caroline
of Monaco, 45, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, 44, came into the world with much acclaim.
Others had to earn their fame. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, 46, and King Abdullah II of Jordan, 40, lead countries. Tony Blair, 49, is prime minister of Britain. U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, 47, spends her days trying to confound terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, 45.
Playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who just published "Shiksa Goddess: Or How I Spent My Forties," says that decade was a crash course in self-improvement for her. She wanted to lose weight, exercise, read more, improve relationships, move, fall in love and decide whether to have a baby.
She is now 52 and her daughter, Lucy, conceived by artificial insemination, turns 3 next month.
"It's hard to come out the other side and believe there are possibilities in life," Miss Wasserstein says, "but I think it's crucial. You must take the experience you have and keep trying. You have to think of what's important to you. Life is random. Certain things are fair and certain things are not fair.
"When you are younger, your mother says the important thing you have is your health. As you age, you realize she was right."
Thanks to advances in health care, retirement has been pushed back almost to one's 80s, meaning that 40 is only halfway through a life, says Angie Nelson, president of FuturVantage, a Minneapolis consulting company that studies the future.
This is a huge change from when retirement was in one's early 60s, placing 40 at the two-thirds point in life.
Ms. Nelson likens one's 40s to a "middlescence," a term coined by author Ken Dychtwald in his book as a type of later adolescence where bodies are again changing and new alliances (second marriages and better jobs) are being forged.
"The 40s are being retooled," she says. "Baby boomers are going to invent new lifestyles. People are moving away from stuff to experience. They will have the health and economic means to do so and they are going to inherit a whole bucketful of money from their parents."
At the same time, she said, the threshold of aging out of a particular job or occupation is getting lower, meaning that people are topping out earlier and earlier in their careers.
"A lot of baby boomers cannot afford to retire," she says, "so they will have to figure out something. A good entrepreneur can figure out what people will want and provide that. What are those 70 million people going to be looking for?"
Ms. Nelson predicts baby boomers desiring new experiences will be increasingly interested in the arts, in religion, books, learning languages and travel. With no children in the nest, they will dote more on pets.
Thus, one of the hot businesses of the future will be "pet nannies," those who house-sit people's pets while the owners travel from experience to experience.
Wayne Fields, a professor of English and director of the American Culture Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis, spent a whole summer pondering his 40s.
"The year I turned 42, my 16-year-old daughter was thinking of going to college," he says. "I was aware it was midlife and that you are supposed to have a crisis. I had not published much. I had been writing for years and putting it all in suitcases. I decided if I could write, I could start trying to publish it."
His ensuing book, "What the River Knows: An Angler in Mid-Stream," was not so much about fly fishing as it was about understanding what is emotionally important in life.
"Your kids are starting to leave and certain physical abilities are decreasing," he says. "You want to have a certain mastery over something. In a world of personal clumsiness, you try to find a kind of grace."
Now 60, he laughs about thinking he was "old" back then. "Now I think, 'If I could only be 42 again.'"
That wistful yearning is often paired with the desire to make physical changes. Some fortysomethings are willing to pay big money to look younger, according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. The most popular surgical procedure in this age group 90 percent of whom are women is blepharoplasty, or eyelid surgery. It is a procedure that Greta Van Susteren, 47, the on-air lawyer who defected from CNN to Fox News, underwent in January.
The most popular nonsurgical procedure for this group is treatment with botox, a substance injected into the muscles of the forehead to smooth out wrinkles. The second most popular is filler injections, which is where collagen is injected into facial wrinkles.
"Turning 40 is a sort of crisis in one's life," says Dr. Shan Baker, president of the plastic surgeons' group. "It is harder emotionally and psychologically to turn 40 than it is to turn 50. It's because you are midway through life and peaking out in your career.
"When you are 40, you are not thinking of retirement. People in their early 40s want to look 35. But people who are 50 to 55 don't want to look younger; they want to look better. They don't have as much desire to set the clock back."
People in their 40s mistakenly think life is over when it's not, says Suzy Allegra, author of the new book "How to Be Ageless: Growing Better, Not Just Older."
"We are programmed to believe that if we are not successful by our 40s, we have failed," she says. "That is not true. Look at Grandma Moses. Didn't she start painting when she was 78? We're buying into the cultural myth that youth is all. A lot of baby boomers are not letting go of their youth."
An elementary school teacher for 20 years, Ms. Allegra left teaching when 40 and gradually worked her way into a career as a motivational speaker.
"There is no age limit at which you stop trying and going for what you want in life," she says. "My belief is we can do anything we set our hearts to, if we will deal with the pain that may come from doing it. There will be pain in letting go of the old things. But you choose a life to follow your heart."
If the finances are not there, "What are you doing to make it happen?" she asks. "Are you tightening your belt and giving up your Starbucks lattes? Most people are only wishful thinkers. Figure out what's negotiable and non-negotiable. Either learn to love what you have or make the changes you need to get what you want."

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