Turning 40 years old is usually cast in a negative light.
Yesterday I came across an article that was intended to be helpful (I think) but instead it was incredibly depressing. It was all about the changes you should expect when you’re turning 40.
To sum up the article, you basically fall apart. Your vision deteriorates, you experience constant aches and pains, your hair turns gray and thins, and you start forgetting things. You’ve heard it all, too, probably your whole life. This is why we dread turning 40. It’s the beginning of the end!
Reading that doomsday article is why I’m here today. To set the record straight.
I’ve been experiencing “40” for almost a year now, and it has not been at all what I feared based on the rumors. It’s been more liberating and inspiring than anything else.
There’s been this new sense of confidence and peace creeping into my life. And it feels familiar to me. I recognize it, because I’ve envied it in friends of mine who are a decade ahead of me.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but rather over time, and it feels like nothing short of an enlightenment.
Because your fortieth is such a milestone birthday, it always tends to trigger some reflection, which in turn can bring on some cool revelations. Kind of like Oprah’s “Aha! moments.” As I wrap up my year of being 40, I’ll share my top 5 “Aha!”s.
Aha!’s of Turning 40: The Good Stuff
#1 Peer pressure has lost its power
As someone who has always been more of a follower than a leader, this is a big deal for me. Of course, the sort of peer pressure of adolescence is long gone and can stay locked in my teenage memories.
But can we all admit that adults experience their own kind of peer pressure? If you don’t think so, then maybe you just haven’t named it.
Have you ever driven your children to school in your pajamas and your hair in the messy bun you slept in, knowing you won’t need to get out of the car, and then the PTG president with her bouncy hair and fresh makeup waves you down in the parking lot to ask about your volunteer slot for recess duty? So then you swear that will never happen again and you make your kids late next time because you have to change first? Yeah, me neither.
Or, maybe your 13-year-old whines that he’s the only one without a cell phone in his grade, and his best friend’s mom tells you she thinks he needs one to connect with his friends, so you start feeling pressure to buy him one, even though you decided he doesn’t need one until he’s in high school.
We all know that doing things simply because you think you should or because others expect it is not a good reason. Nonetheless, it’s easy to sometimes feel that pressure.
Well, at 40 years old, you find that you’ve stopped caring much what others think about you. If people think you’re not a good parent or they judge you for sometimes looking like you just fell out of bed, it just doesn’t matter. By 40, you’ll have learned to just “do you” and not worry about the rest. I’m telling you, it’s liberating.
#2 You live life more purposefully
Because by 40, you know that “life is short” is more than a cliche. It’s the unavoidable truth.
As I grew up and had friends whose grandparents passed away, I always knew I was lucky to not know what that was like. It wasn’t until I was an adult with a family of my own that I lost my beloved grandparents. With those losses, though, my family found comfort in the fact that they had each lived to a ripe old age and had had very full and rich lives.
By the time you are nearing 40, though, most of us will also have been touched by a different kind of loss. Tragic loss. For my family, this was losing my husband’s brother unexpectedly to a heart attack at 44. And sadly, I’ve now lost young friends very suddenly, as well. I’m sure you have experienced your own deep losses that you list as tragedies in your mind, and you know exactly what makes them different.
But please…stay with me!
I do realize that this talk of death sounds like a big negative part of growing older. While that’s true, I choose to focus on the huge positive that comes with it. After some time passes, what results for those of us touched by deep loss is a beautiful new outlook and awareness of life that is impossible to get to without first experiencing that loss. And this new perspective can really change how you experience every day, if you let it.
In moments of living more intentionally and “on purpose,” my mind often goes to those I have lost. I sometimes even think of my experiences as a way to honor their memory, be it a gorgeous kayak paddle on a lake or a challenging run.
You’ll know you are living life more purposefully when…
- You spend your time and money doing what you want and love.
- If you want something but are scared, you push yourself to do it anyway.
- You can let go of things that don’t make you happy.
- The things in your life that are truly important to you become clear to you.
- You may live just a bit more in the moment, which is a positive mental shift for most of us given our rushed and uptight world.
#3 You learn to cut yourself some slack
By 40, you have enough life experience to realize that others don’t have it together nearly as much as they seem to. You’ve seen your calmest friend lose her shit on her husband and the most perfect-seeming moms freak out when they’re thrown one-too-many curveballs.
Everyone is doing the best they can, including you and me. And by now, it’s obvious that what you see on FB and IG is nothing but the curated best moments of people’s lives.
You realize you are doing a great job most of the time and you also realize that’s plenty good enough. So you stop comparing yourself to others and begin to be kinder to yourself. Negative self-talk is powerful, but so is positive self-talk. And kind words to yourself just flow more easily at 40 and beyond. It is awesome.
#4 You probably have found your framily
Friends who know completely who you are and love you anyway are worth their weight in gold. By 40, you have been in a lot of friend relationships. You’ve outgrown many friendships, and you have grown apart from some others.
But those that have withstood the test of time are the real thing. The people you can call up out of the blue even if its been awhile and you pick up right where you left off. The ones who know the unfiltered you, have seen you at your best and your worst, and have gone through life’s highs and lows with you. Those are your friends for life and you know how fortunate you are to have them. And they, you.
#5 You know yourself really well
We are all uniquely complicated individuals. If you’re anything like me, it has taken years (40, to be exact) to really understand why I am the way I am. By now, I’ve had lots of time to consider how all of my experiences and all of the people in my life have made me the way I am.
Having some self-awareness really helps you live a more satisfying life. You are simply more equipped to make decisions, both big and small, that are in your own best interest.
If you will be turning 40 soon, I hope I’ve given you a glimmer of hope that it isn’t all bad. On your 40th birthday, do something just for you that you love with no fear holding you back. And welcome to the beginning of the best years!
ETA: On my 40th birthday, I went to a Jason Mraz concert, who coincidentally (or was it kismet?) was on a brief birthday tour celebrating his own 40th. I got to hear him sing about love and positivity and all good stuff. On my way to the concert, a bird pooped in my hair. First time in my life. I actually laughed, and counted it as a good omen.