The weeks leading up to my 40th birthday were filled with giddy anticipation, as if I were about to shed a very tattered, old coat and emerge glowing, swathed in silk, to a chorus of angels. Forty seemed to be the magic number, a turning point, a righting of the ship. I’d wake up on my birthday imbued with the super powers I’d always wanted: confidence, clarity, purpose.
Instead, I woke up feeling pretty much the same as always: somewhat ambivalent, stressed about minor details, strung out on motherhood and unfocused about the future. Weeks went by, then months, a year. Nothing much changed. I still couldn’t find my way, my why. Then I found myself pregnant with my third child. Whatever unfulfilled fantasies I had about life in my 40s made a U-turn back to new motherhood.
I knew I couldn’t soldier through another decade hiding behind motherhood’s skirts. I needed to define confidence, clarity and purpose for myself, not wait for it to come my way. Like all good late bloomers, it’s taken me a few years to find my footing and understand what’s true for me. Here’s where I am now in my mid-40s:
I don’t have to get over things. I have to get through them.
The mantra in my house growing up was, “Get over it, you’re awesome, move on.” There wasn’t much room for self-pity or reflection. This kind of thinking works for minor mishaps, but as my marriage carries on and my kids grow older, I realize that life isn’t about tucking difficult experiences out of sight. It’s about gently acknowledging them. Even when they suck. Getting over it is saying it didn’t affect you, it didn’t matter, you don’t care. Getting through it means you were there, you felt it and you’ve shifted in some way. It’s trading in a linear life for a more multidimensional one, sadness, anger, joy and all.
Let go and make room.
This is an expansion of getting through events rather than getting over them. Once through an experience, I’m trying to let go of—not get over—the intense emotions around it and leave space to receive something good.
What other people think about me is none of my business.
When my good friend, Kelley, first said this to me years ago, I knew what she meant, but as a lifelong people pleaser, I couldn’t quite live by it until now. It’s not that I don’t care what people think of me. It’s more that even though I’m striving to do my best, I won’t be able to please everyone. People will think what they want about me, judge me, criticize me or disagree with me. I don’t want to put my energy into worrying about what they think. That effort is better spent making sure I’m doing right by me and the people I’m closest to, whom I love the most.
Being brave is a daily occurrence.
In my 20s, brave meant climbing a mountain, breaking up with a boyfriend and moving across the country. In my 30s, it meant getting married, having kids and deciding to stay at home more or less full-time. In my 40s, being brave is much smaller. It means writing every day. It means telling a close friend I don’t agree with how she’s living her life. It means saying “no” to my kids when it’s easier to say “yes.” It means remembering to smile, setting realistic expectations and noting that the small stuff is an accomplishment too.
Be kind to myself.
I’m going to fail. I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going say the wrong thing. I’m going to yell at my kids. I’m going to gain a few pounds. I’m going to forget to call my parents. I’m really good at beating myself up over all the times I drop the ball, and not giving equal weight to when I score a touchdown. Waste. Of. Time. Plus it doesn’t do my girls any favors to hear me mumbling about how stupid I am when I forget their dentist appointments. Screw-ups happen. As long as no one is bleeding, dead or emotionally devastated, the offense is probably forgivable and, in time, forgettable.
I’m not young, and I’m okay with that.
I don’t mean that I’m old; I just don’t have any illusions about my age. Plus, I’m not interested in feeling or looking like I’m in my 20s or 30s. Sure, I had lots of fun in those decades, but I was also more insecure, more stressed and less grounded. Of course I fret about my saggy skin and wrinkles—aging gracefully is going to be a challenge for me, but the older I get, what’s on the outside feels less important than what’s on the inside. That’s where the real me lives.
Don’t be scared. Be vigilant.
I’m not going to lie, the physical challenges of getting older scare me. So far, I’m healthy and hopefully have many years ahead of me, but I am, finally, anxious about my health and my sleep and my alcohol intake, cancer, sore elbows and lingering coughs. I realize that I really do need to take care of myself—my skin, my body, my heart. No need to starve and work out every day to lose two pounds in a week (yes, I’ve done that). No need to have a drink just to be social if I really don’t want one. No shame in going to bed early and laying a claim on beauty rest.
When someone praises me, I’m practicing just saying “thank you.” Period. I tend to follow up my gratitude with some sort of self-deprecating excuse that makes it sound like whatever I’ve achieved is no big deal. Or I feel compelled to find some way to return the compliment right there and then: “Your shoes are awesome too!” That just sounds insincere, even though it’s not meant to be. It’s okay to bask in a well-deserved compliment. Sitting with those sweet words helps me feel it more, remember it longer and really appreciate whom they came from. Next time I see that person, I hope to have equally meaningful words of praise for them.
It’s not that I still got it. It’s that I finally (just about) have it.
I don’t mean in the looks and sexiness department. I’m talking about in the What’s Really Important department. Confidence. Clarity. Intention. Slowing down is good. Being in the moment, realizing I might not remember it, and not panicking is good. Being happy, finding patience, listening and forgiving are all good. Nurturing the positive takes work, and I’m working on it.
Better late than never, right?