People love to talk about all the amazing changes that happen in your 40s. You develop that kick ass IDGAF attitude. You gain confidence and lose fucks. It’s awesome. At least that’s what they tell us.
So far my 40s haven’t been this blissful utopia. They’ve been confusing and emotional and just plain old weird sometimes. But of all the changes I’ve felt in my 40s, I’ve gotta say that the best one came recently. That’s because at 43, I feel like I’ve finally learned to cut myself some slack and stop hating myself.
Sure, that might sound like NBD, like something that should have happened a long time ago (true), but it was a very big deal for me.
A few months ago, I went through a really humbling experience. I won’t get into the details because honestly, they don’t really matter. But let’s just say, it was one of those situations that you think only “other people” get themselves into. This kind of thing won’t happen to you, either because you’re lucky or better prepared or more informed. Then it happens to you and you, think, holy f*ck.
For a few days, I did my typical routine of self-flagellation, shame, and humiliation. I sobbed and told myself that I was failure. A complete and total failure.
And then something odd happened. I decided I’d had enough. I was tired of chastising myself. I was tired of expecting more from myself than I did from others. I was tired of hoping that being lucky or prepared or informed would keep me from going through all these really shitty, but very human, experiences. ENOUGH.
Maybe the pandemic has created a new clarity about what really matters to me. Therapy and meditation likely had something to do with it. Maybe it was realization that the brutal truth that life really is short and so very fragile is breathtakingly true. And because life is so fragile and so short, that means there’s no room for me to feel like shit about myself anymore.
People always talk about the DGAF attitude that comes in your 40s, but I’ve never really felt it until now. It took me to age 43 to realize that a true IDGAF attitude doesn’t just mean you care less about eye wrinkles and grey hair or that you’re fed up with mean girl drama and nastiness; it means you’re fed up with feeling like shit about yourself. You realize that you’re human, just like everybody else.
Since then, there’s been a subtle but significant shift. I’ve been laughing at myself a little more – and laughing in general a whole lot more. I don’t take things others do quite so personally. And when I misstep, I try to make it right and then move on.
I cannot tell you how different this is for me. You know how some people have a running list of wrongs people have committed against them? Well, I have that list too – but for myself. I might not be able to tell you what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I can tell you every single time I put my foot in my mouth, hurt someone, disappointed myself, or did something ridiculously stupid and shameful over the past 40+ years. Seriously. I stay away at night, physically sick, ruminating over that stupid thing I did when I was 12 or that selfish thing I did when I was 23 or that ignorant thing I said a couple years ago. Every faux pas, mistake, or failure was another tally mark in the “list of reasons why I suck.”
Ripping up that list has been the biggest and best change that has happened in my 40s. It is such a relief to cut myself some slack. It is liberating to give myself the space to be human.
Of course, this isn’t a free pass to be a privileged jerk. On the contrary, actually. It’s actually given me the room to own mistakes without defensiveness so that I can truly learn and grow. We’re all learning, after all. To expect that I wouldn’t make mistakes from time to time is ridiculous. But now, instead of mistakes as a sign of my lack of worth, they are just that – mistakes. And without all that shame and hate bubbling up, I have the mental and emotional energy to move forward. Because let me tell you, it’s real hard to invest the emotional energy needed to learn and grow in any meaningful way when you’re swimming in shame and self-hate.
I’m still just as confused, scared, and unsettled in my 40s as I was before, but let me tell you, learning to cut myself some slack – to forgive and love myself a little more – at the age of 43 has definitely made my 40s the best decade of all.