I'm In My 40s And Still Don't Feel Like A 'Grown Up'

by Christine Organ
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty

I really thought I’d have things figured out by now. I really did. Maybe I was naïve. Or optimistic. Or maybe I really am behind that imaginary trajectory of “success” that we’re spoon-fed our entire lives.

Whatever the case, I never thought I’d be a 40-something mom of two and still feel like I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. And I don’t just mean what I want to do, but who I want to be.

For a while I thought it was just me. Everyone else must have it figured out by now, I thought. They sure seem like they do. Their LinkedIn profile and #CrushingIt hashtags on Instagram tell me they do.

When I hear people my age talk with such authority about things like projected interest rates and how to properly winterize your home, I am genuinely confused. Do people really know these things? How did they get so skilled at being a grown up? And what the fuck is wrong with me?

When I was a teen, it always seemed like my parents and folks their age had it figured out. They seemed like they knew what they wanted to do, who they wanted to be, and they were doing it. For the most part anyway. And if not, they worked it out pretty damn quickly. I assumed that by the time a person got to their 40s, they kinda knew what they were doing.

Me? Not so much. Some days, I think I want to bust my ass, climb the career ladder, lean all the way in, and be a boss bitch. Other days, I want to escape to a cabin in the woods, rescue a bunch of dogs, and tend to them. Most days, though, I’m just muddling through it all.

A few years ago, I noticed the way most women talked about your 40s with this glow of confident IDGAFness. Which is there, for sure. But no one was talking about how confusing your 40s are too. I’ve noticed the same thing when it comes to how we’re living our life and where we’re putting our energy.

Here’s the hard truth: your 40s can be a bit unsettling too. They can be confusing as hell. It can be lonely sometimes. I am firmly in my 40s, and I can honestly say that most days I feel like I have no idea what I want to do with my life.

It wasn’t until I said this to a couple friends that I realized just how many other women my age feel this way. OMG, me too! was the response I generally got. But it’s even more pervasive than that. The Washington Post reports, “There is also growing evidence — both anecdotal and in surveys — that a lot of people want to do something different with their lives than they did before the pandemic.”

All over the place, people are asking themselves, is this really what I want my life to be?

Our 40s can bring a lot of changes. Our kids are getting older and need us less often but in bigger ways. We don’t want to just pick up and head off on a new adventure because there’s middle school graduation and driver’s education. Our career might be taking off or we’re moving on to a second career or pursuing a new passion, which is also amazing, but it can leave us feeling shaky and uncertain. We’re excited and thrilled about the new opportunities, but also feel low-key terrified all the time. What if we’re making a mistake? Is this what we really want? And how does a person ever know?

I’m losing my “filter,” and my tolerance for bullshit is fading fast. It is clearer than ever just how short and precious life is. I don’t have time or energy for nonsense. But I’m also keenly aware of just how much bullshit and nonsense there is. Combine that with higher expectations for myself and others makes it even harder to figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life.

For a long time, I felt like something was wrong with me because I felt unmoored and confused. But there’s nothing wrong with me – it’s the false assumption that a person should have things “figured out” by a certain age. That’s some bullshit right there. And like I just said, I’ve got no tolerance for it.

So I’m 40-something and still figuring things out? That’s fine. I’ll make mistakes, learn from them, try new things, make more mistakes and then try more new things. The key, I think, isn’t to expect that we’d have anything figured out by the time we’re in our 30s or 40s or 50s, but that we find people who understand that we’re all figuring things out as we go. Regardless of how together their LinkedIn profile looks or the #empowering things they share on Instagram.

So yeah. I’m in my 40s and still not sure what I want to be when I “grow up.” Maybe you feel the same way too. We can muddle our way through together.