This Is 40: A Socially Distanced Perspective

Taking stock of life on the weirdest birthday ever

This year is three months old, and in some ways it feels like it's been around longer than I have. Today is my 40th birthday, and like virtually all of us in this country and beyond, my wife and I are pushing our scheduled plans (a Sadie Hawkins themed backyard birthday party), and that's fine. 

In the past couple months, we lost a friend to cancer, we took a family trip to Washington D.C. to visit with relatives and unexpectedly lost my grandmother-in-law while we were there, I parted ways with the advertising agency where I worked for the last five years, and many friends and family have lost their jobs, or fear their companies may be in serious trouble and maybe not returning at all.

It's a weird time. But when that abnormality is commonplace, it changes your view on the overall picture. Or at least I hope it does. It certainly has for me.

My household includes two middle-schoolers, a second-grader, and my wife—all girls. My wife and I both run hot/cold, so every member of the house can get testy and wind up in separate rooms more often than not. But lately, we've been creating a new rhythm, which includes family movie viewings, occasional nature walks, and daily games of Sorry and Bananagrams—one game having ended with my daughter having only three words spelled out: "penis, rehab, van." I'm still trying to process what a Penis Rehab Van is, and whether I should be concerned for my children, or if I should be drafting a business plan and seeking angel investment immediately.

The last couple years have been an existential pigpen in between my ears. I've been taking an annual baseball trip with my brothers and old friends I've known since middle school. When the conversations inevitably work their way back to who got divorced, grey hair counts, sperm counts, hemorrhoids and heartburn, it's tough not to feel like I'm living out the premise of City Slickers. I just couldn't tell you which character I am.

When I was 23, I was working as an account intern at an ad agency in Sacramento when I got a full-time position with the company—but this time in the creative department. I left work that Friday wearing slacks, a button-down shirt, clean-shaven, with a respectable haircut. On Monday I showed up to the office in a T-shirt, holey jeans, and a bleached blonde mohawk. Subtle.

A couple months ago, the day after my last day at GSD&M, I went to the barber, sat down in the seat and asked with a straight face for a mullet. She looked at me and said "Oh no," then marched right over to another woman with purple hair, pointed to me and said, "That dude wants a mullet." To which she replied, "Hell yeah." This was my girl. I explained to her that I'm not looking for anything remotely cool. I painted a picture of 1988 blazers and jeans, of Richard Marx, Jeff Gordon, and plainly put it: "I want a little boy's haircut with a Kentucky Waterfall in back." She was very into this idea, and damn if she didn't deliver.

Mullet aside, being off on my own for work has been a roller coaster so far. Like most people, work went from great, to slowing down, to turned off completely a couple weeks ago. I took that time to start building a new structure and company for what I'll be doing in the future (more on that to come in the weeks ahead). But after a few slow days, I was able to get more work and it keeps coming in. 

This is the sort of time that puts on full display who you really are, the relationships you've made, how you've treated people above you, below you, or beside you in all your previous jobs. It's also a time where good people seek other good people to work with. My brother got laid off, and within days he was doing design/website development for me, and is painting a house as I type this. He's finding a way. I'm grateful in times like these to see good people find a way, but I know there are plenty of good people who are struggling, too.

I know this time is challenging and scary, but I also hope it's been fruitful in taking a pause to assess your life, your relationships, your role in your family and community, to ask yourself how you feel about the things that make up your day-to-day, the things that make you, you. I'm appreciative for the break, and I'm trying to make the most of it, which includes a lot of exercise and business strategy, but also includes a good amount of drinking and online poker. So, don't think I'm providing some perfect family/career model here, but I am embracing the hiatus nonetheless.

We are knee-high in a strange year, with much more uncertainty to follow, but I hope it's the best year of my life—and yours, too. Let's do what we can to make that a reality.


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Jeffrey Butterworth
Jeffrey Butterworth is a creative director and founder of ButterCo.

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