Aging Gracefully: Thoughts On Turning 40

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Currently, I am less than four months away from my “big” birthday…yes, turning the big 4-0. I have always loved my birthday and never really felt the traditional black cloud that often hangs over those major milestone years. I remember turning 30, and for me, it was just another birthday. I didn’t feel any different, act much differently or do anything that immediately welcomed me into the “over 30 club”. So as I round the corner into my 40th year, I thought I’d share some thoughts about making it this far.  

Forty. When I say it out loud, it still sounds “old” to me. I remember my parents turning 40, the big celebrations, the “over the hill” signage, and black decor everywhere. While my parents were (and still are) relatively “young-minded” people, the number 40 just sounded ancient to me.  

If I’m being a pessimist, I might argue that 40 could be considered the halfway point; if our lifespan is somewhere in the 80-90 year range, I am fast approaching the middle of my life. You don’t hear much about people having a “mid-life crisis” anymore. Maybe that’s because all of life is just one big crisis as we navigate one challenge after another. But as the optimist that I’m often known for being, I can look back and see what all I have accomplished in those short 40 years on the planet. I’ve made it through 16 years of school, got my first job, moved clear across the country by myself, lived overseas, traveled to more than half the US states, finished grad school, fallen in love, had babies, and so many other wonderful things. When I look at it that way, I can honestly say that in 40 short years, I’ve left my footprint on this place.  

For me, one of my favorite things that I enjoy about getting older is how I have learned to “care less” about things that are not in my control. In middle school, I remember trying so hard to fit in. I did some pretty stupid things just to look cool or get the attention of people who I thought were cool back then. High school was a little better, and I found myself caring less about what others thought (which is extremely hard to do as a teenager). College teetered between finding my niche and figuring out where exactly I fit in the world, which then led me into adulthood. Since graduating from college, I can break my life into phases, similar to the ones from middle school and high school. But today, I can honestly say that I feel pretty good about the skin I’m in. I don’t let others’ opinions of me dictate how I behave or what I do. There is a fine line between being aware of others’ thoughts and being influenced by them. Don’t get me wrong: I value others’ ideas, but I think the most significant change for me is that I do my best not to allow those thoughts to modify my behavior or values.  

Getting back to 40—yes, I have gray hairs and a few wrinkles. I birthed two babies ten months apart and have some extra fluff on this body of mine (which I am learning to be ok with). I eat healthy sometimes but consume my fair share of junk food regularly. I don’t sleep enough, I still don’t drink enough water, my personal uniform is a hoodie and black leggings, and I have jeans in my closet that are probably never going to fit me again. But the best thing about all of that is that I am pretty ok with it. Ten years ago, I am not totally sure I could have said that statement honestly.  

While I am older in years, I am also wiser in my experiences as well. I have made many mistakes and learned from some of them. I have (for the most part) figured out who I am, what I value, and what I believe in. I am far from perfect but have learned to accept my imperfections as they are rather than dwell or stress about how I can change them. I look back on my twenty-something self and laugh at some of the things I did (and grimace at a few memories too!) At this point; I can say that I am feeling pretty good with where I’m standing and hopeful about where I’m headed. Today, I know who I am and don’t need to reinvent myself for anyone at this point in my life. It might have taken 40 years to figure that out, but I’d say that is a pretty priceless gift. I had planned to do something big and bold for this monumental birthday, but with the current pandemic we are experiencing, I may just end up spending my 40th in sweatpants and drinking on the couch with my hubs–and that would be fine with me.

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