10 Epiphanies You Should Have By the Time You’re 40

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 
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1. You are not a role. You realize by now that you aren’t a particular “kind” of woman: low-maintenance, high-maintenance, the cool girl, the laid-back mom, the tiger mother, the hippie chick, the soccer mom, the Type A, the helicopter parent. You’re just you, and most other people are too.

2. Your weight is probably your weight. I’ve been struggling with my weight for twenty-five years. By the time I turned 40, things got busy enough that I now just don’t have the mental bandwidth for the epic private struggle of Should I Eat A Cookie or its awful twin, The Great Treadmill Recriminations of 2015. Every new regimen I launch takes time and attention away from my kids, my work, and my hobbies—basically, me fully engaging with my life.

3. 95% of what other people do has nothing to do with you. Your sister is going to grad school? Your friend is dropping out of the workforce after having a baby? Your neighbor’s round-the-world vacation, new kitchen, new car—whatever. It has nothing to do with you. You make your choices based on your own unique considerations, and you live with them. What other people are doing doesn’t really matter.

4. Your body is for you. Recently I was dressing for a party and I realized for the first time that I was focused on who I would talk to, what I would eat and drink—basically, whether I was having a good time. Not whether anyone thought I looked good. Just…whether I was enjoying myself.

5. There’s no “the one.” By the time you’re 40, you’ve fallen in love and you’ve fallen out of love and maybe in again. You change and what you want in a partner changes. Someone who was “the one” at 25 might not be anyone you’d want to spend even 30 seconds with at 40. It’s okay to let that go and seek out someone new.

6. You can get a lot of joy out of being ordinary. By the time you’re 40, all the wunderkinds have done their wunderkind thing, and maybe you hit it big, or maybe you didn’t. But you realize there’s a particular kind of joy in the ordinary activities of everyday life: Making a really good grilled cheese. Listening to the radio with a four-year-old draped on top of you. Having a cocktail on the porch.

7. The people who show up are your real friends. When I turned 40 I made a personal rule: If I invite someone to do something three times and they don’t accept or reciprocate, I stop asking. Your friends are the people who want to see you and make time to do so.

8. There’s no algorithm that guarantees a perfect kid, or even a reasonably happy, well-adjusted kid. Are you serving organic food? Restricting screen time? Modeling respectful conflict resolution? That’s all great, but…if there were a secret to turning out perfect kids, we’d all know it. Way, way too much hinges on the mysteries of genetics to make it fruitful to fret over whether 30 minutes of Sesame Street is 10 minutes too much.

9. Friendships are fluid, and sometimes they’re site- and time-specific. Your best college friend might be just a Christmas card by now, but the new mom down the block, who has a kid your kid’s age and a schedule compatible with yours? You’re instant besties. And that’s OK. The college friend might fade back in some day, and this one might fade out. Relationships are not static.

10. We are not hiding anything. We all try to put on a good face, to present our best selves. But you know how you can sense that other people are secretly very angry, or depressed, or basically happy but having a rough time right now? They can see the same thing about you. This goes doubly for our kids. Our kids will see us more clearly than we will ever see ourselves, and there’s nothing we can do about that.

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