Age really isn’t just a number when it also comes with expectations and milestones which we are constantly being measured against. What if baby isn’t walking or talking by their first birthday? OMG 10! Double digits! Happy Sweet Sixteen! Here’s your over-the-top party and driver’s licenses. Congratulations on turning 18; you are now an adult and eligible voter. Have fun drinking legally and blowing your money at the casinos with your proof of 21 ID. Also, you are now expected to get your shit together because the next 10-12 years are for college graduation, marriage, career building, and family making. Oh, and now you’re 40? Your life belongs to your kids and everything is downhill so put a bumper sticker on your ass that reads Honk if parts fall off.
No. We need to change this script. Not only can our path to 40 be drastically different than this narrative, but for many of us, our life begins at 40 and we can do whatever we want.
I’ll be 42 soon, and I’d be lying if I told you I don’t get caught up in feeling like I missed opportunities or have failed myself somehow because I haven’t reached certain goals. And it’s not just passing regret or sadness; I have had full-blown panic attacks thinking life has passed me by and I’m too old to do everything I want in this lifetime. I haven’t written a book. I haven’t gone back to school to get the master’s degree I want. I haven’t been to Europe. I can’t do a muscle up in CrossFit or a handstand in yoga.
The panic slips away when I add the word yet. It’s not simply my age that has stopped me from doing these things; it’s been opportunity and not knowing I wanted to do some of these things. And it’s not like haven’t been busy doing all of the other stuff life has to offer. Turning 40 doesn’t mean life stops.
I also remind myself of all that I have achieved and learned “later in life.” Getting older also means gaining more life experiences, and hopefully more insight about who we are and what we need. I was close to 40 when I got sober. I was 40 when I had gender affirming top surgery after coming out as nonbinary a couple of years earlier. Compared to the transgender folks 10-15 years younger than me having the same surgery, I was an old-timer. I’m divorced and with a new partner who I am starting a new life with even though we don’t know exactly what that will look like because we are in a long-distance relationship. My partner and I often wish we had more time with one another, but we met each other and fell in love when we were supposed to and that didn’t happen until 40.
Just because you haven’t checked something off of your to-do list or vision board, doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t. You can still get pregnant, get divorced, or start dating or get remarried. You can come of the closet. You can wear clothing and accessories that affirm your gender. You can move. You can start a business or passion project. You can get a new job and even switch career fields. You can go back to school or write a book. You can become a foster parent. You don’t have to be a bystander to your own life. Yes, some situations are out of our control, but there are still plenty of events and circumstances that you can control and change. Even if these big adventures are not necessary or desired, you can do all of the smaller things too.
Our curiosity never stops and you are never too old to try new things, whether it’s something you have always wanted to do or just became interested in. You can learn to drive, swim, ride a bike, ski, skate, or get upside down during yoga. You can learn to cook, scuba dive, pole dance, garden, change the oil in your car, or do your own taxes. You can travel, take a stand-up comedy class, or run a marathon.
We can also give ourselves permission to feel young, beautiful, and sexy. Our bodies change as we age, but that doesn’t mean we’re falling apart or less attractive. At almost 42, I understand my body more now than I did 10 years ago. As a result, exercise, sex, and everyday existence are better. My body has seen and felt some shit, but age has helped me find the best ways to love and utilize my body. Society makes it hard on women to feel good about their bodies as they age—hello anti-wrinkle creams, hair dye, and weird metabolism syrups—but fuck that noise. Spend your money on shit that makes you happy and not on products that promise to help you keep up with some impossible-to-achieve construct of beauty. Eat the food, wear the comfy clothes, and show off those laugh lines.
There are so many things we can still do when we turn 40, most of which can be done better and are more enjoyable than when we were younger. But we need to give fewer fucks about our age and ignore the stigmatizing trash that tells us we can’t live our best lives after 40. The list of experiences I want to have is long and it can be easy to feel like I’m behind schedule. When I take comparison out of the equation, though, I focus less on where I think I should be based on my age. I’m either right where I need to be or just not there yet, and I won’t let another trip around the sun slow me down.