My 40th birthday party was special. The fact that I had planned it already made it unusual, as I'm not a planner (ask any female in my life; she will sigh and nod), and I don't care for parties. But I had a different attitude about turning 40. I wanted to acknowledge the milestone. I was excited, eager for a celebration of where I had been and where I was going. I invited 75 or so of my closest friends. I rented a cool space (a small room that had once been used for bowling in a C&W dance hall). We had a DJ and snacks and adult beverages and a gospel band showed up unexpectedly and played R&B classics until 2 a.m. It seemed like heaven.
The party masked a lot of turbulence. Now, four years later, I'm divorced, broke to broke-ish, and living in a different city. Much of my life feels harried and incomplete. I spend some weekends, like this past one, flying back home, rushing to see friends and family, spending too little time with everyone before heading back to my new life. I'm sure that from the outside, it appears change has not been good for me.
But that's not entirely true. Yes, my life is very different than it was just a few years ago, but the rough seas have forced me to take a look at what is important, what I have to do not only to survive but thrive in my 40s. When times were good, I didn't question much about what I did or where I was going. I just bounced about day to day, certain everything would work out for the best because it always had. I didn't work out regularly, I ate and drank what I wanted, and I spent all the money I made.
Now, I'm forced to act like a grown-up, take responsibility for who I am, what I want, and how I plan to get there. For example, I exercise regularly and carefully. I watch what I eat and I live an austere lifestyle. (I still spend the money I make. Having a daughter headed to college will do that, but at least it's going to better use.) As the paper turns 40 with this week's issue (we'll be celebrating this in September with our Best of Atlanta issue), I thought I should offer some life lessons as it goes through the midlife crisis years. I see some similarities.
Don't apologize for seeing new people
CL is going through something of a painful transition as it hits 40, as everyone knows. As its older, more traditional print audience migrates online, it needs to attract a new, often younger, potentially hotter audience. Make no mistake: This is going to anger people. Your friends, your family, the longtime mature audience, they'll all ask you: Why are you doing this? Do you realize how many people you're hurting? Don't you remember the good times, the 200-page issues, the fights with City Hall, the bowling columns? CL is going to have to tell them: I still want you in my life. I didn't plan this. The Internet just happened. And being angry about it isn't going to make it go away.
Update your look
It doesn't hurt if you have someone young and hip to help you out. Unfortunately, my girlfriend is still back in Dallas, so I often dress like a sad H&M mannequin. CL, though, has a stylish creative director who, as you may have noticed, gave the paper a much-needed makeover. More columns, a cleaner look, modern fonts, a sensible layout — all things that make an aging paper look more in step with the times.
Lose some friends
In some ways, this will happen naturally. People will leave your world. Many will not be comfortable with the changes you're making because change scares the hell out of people. (I'd say that's because they're usually projecting their own fears and insecurities onto your life decisions and blaming you for what that reveals about them, but I don't want to sound all bitter and accurate.) But it's also OK to get rid of people who are negative influences, no matter how long they've been in your life. For example, there are a few commenters on CL's website who probably should start making other plans for which sites they're going to regularly troll upon.
Nostalgia is a powerful drug. You remember people and places that meant a lot to you, and you smile, and you want to feel that way again. You want to recapture all that was good about the past (and conveniently forget what was not). You can't do that. You can look hard at yourself, see how those friends and family shaped you, and make careful decision about the person — or newspaper — you want to be moving forward. It's all in front of you, laid out before you, a banquet of opportunity, a chance to remake yourself into something strong and seaworthy, to weather the challenges that will come. To plan a 50th.
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