I very clearly remember being five or six years old and thinking seven was old. Not wrinkly-doesn’t-know-what’s-cool old but old like it was some exclusive members-only club for which achieving access was an end-all be-all accomplishment. Seven seemed to me a goal that, once you reached, would make you feel like you’d officially “arrived.”
I remember feeling the same way about ten (two whole hands!) and then thirteen (teenager!), and basically every milestone birthday: I’d think I was about to reach the top of some mountain only to get there, look up, and realize I still had so far to go. The birthdays got bigger and further apart: sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, thirty. Every time I thought I got close to crossing a finish line, the line moved forward again. I remember thinking that, “By this birthday..” or “By that birthday…” I’d accomplish this or that thing, or drop this or that habit. But it never happened. I was always chasing a moving target.
Forty was the first milestone where the finish line didn’t move forward and out of my reach as I approached. Maybe why that’s why people call 40 “over the hill” – because it’s like you do finally feel like you’ve reached the top (and, I’ve heard more times than I can count “It’s all downhill from here”). No more moving thresholds – you finally reach and then, by God, you cross them. There are things you achieve at Forty that you finally realize you’ve spent your entire life chasing.
Forty is wisdom. It doesn’t mean you won’t still do stupid shit, but there is a serenity and perspective that comes from experience that just makes everything less anxiety-inducing. It’s taking a breath and just being. And that makes the stupid shit a lot more fun.
At 40 … You Know Who You Are
There is an incredible sense of accomplishment and comfort in knowing just who you are and being OK with it. Your eye color is your eye color. Your hair is your hair (even if you have to pay for your “natural color”). You’re either tall, short, or completely and utterly average, but it’s what you are and there’s no fighting it and it’s OK. Maybe you’re outgoing; maybe you’re reclusive. Point is, you’re not a recluse that is trying to force being the life of every party, and you’re not a social butterfly that is staying home because it’s what your “supposed to do.” At forty you begin to recognize that who you are and what you’ve accomplished in life – and what you have not – is meant for you or it’s not.
At 40 … You Know Who You Are Not
Guess what? Anything personal (i.e., not career-related) you have to force and suffer for… it’s probably not for you. I mean, I am all for a tough workout, or any kind of challenge, but setting unattainable goals and killing yourself to *maybe* meet them is not for women in their forties. Forcing things is just a waste of your time. Believe me. It sounds very Marie Kondo, but at forty you simply recognize that (again other than work) things that do not bring joy are not worth your time. Trust me. I spent many years trying to exist on lettuce and non-fat yogurt and at forty I know this: My body type is my body type, whether I eat a brownie a la mode for dinner or a salad dressed in a packet of mustard (true story).
Last summer, when presented with the opportunity to try wakeboarding, a friend of mine (also in her forties) said to me, without hesitation, “Nope. I know my limitations.” Knowing your limits comes from experience. It does not mean you lack a sense of adventure. It simply means you have the wherewithal to appreciate how hard it will be to do all the things with a blown out ACL.
At 40 … You Know Who Your Friends Are
And you have a lot fewer of them. Friends that come and go quickly before you are forty are a lot like Facebook “Friends.” The interaction has less than zero depth or authenticity. Most are not people you’d spend any real time with, nor would you want to. Nothing wrong with that. But at forty, it’s like your friend list went through a really aggressive filter and got rid of all the superficial BS. Real friendships – the ones that last and remain – are meaningful. And, unlike in your twenties, you’re totally OK with it. Because hell, you graduated high school twenty years ago and you didn’t grow this much to let mindless pettiness smudge the otherwise clear reflection who you’ve become.
At 40 … You Know Who Your Friends Are Not
That friend with whom you’ve been trying to get a date on the calendar for months and it never seems to work out? It shouldn’t be hard. It shouldn’t be a chore or an obligation. Maybe it’s time to accept that it’s not that you don’t have time, but that you’re unwilling to really make time. I saw a great Tweet the other day that explained “saying I don’t have time doesn’t literally mean every second of my schedule is accounted for but rather I’m giving as much of myself as I am currently willing to give.” So, the people that can’t seem to find the time to see you? It may not be that their schedule is packed, but they’re not willing to give the time they do have, to you. Let ‘em go. Same applies if you’re not willing to lock in a date far in advance because something else might come up – if you are doing that, the person you are doing it to clearly isn’t a priority. It’s OK.
My best friend and I have six kids and three dogs between us (eleven dependent beings in all, because… husbands). We work a collective 336 hours a week and “mom” another 672 (go ahead, do the math). And yet, we see each other almost every weekend. Not because life isn’t crazy and we aren’t constantly up to our eyeballs in shit (we joke that we both clean up shit for a living – she’s an ICU nurse and I’m a lawyer). We are a priority for one another. Seeing each other is not forced. It is not a chore and not an obligation. The only “rule” is, we don’t clean our houses for each other to come over, and unless it’s something we can throw on the grill, we don’t cook. The only requirement is that there be a bottle (or three) of wine.
I have other friends that I see only once a year, and talk to infrequently, but when I do see them it’s like no time has passed and we just pick up right where we left off. We don’t have to see each other for our bond to be strong, but because of distance, schedules, or other just life in general, we know it’s hard and we don’t kid ourselves by making unreasonable promises or far-fetched plans to see each other more often. We won’t and it’s OK. Real friends and friendships are enough of a priority to get a place in your schedule or hold a permanent place in your heart and your life.
At 40 … You’re Older. And (mostly) Wiser
Luke Bryan got it right: “Youth is well spent on the young because wisdom in your teens would be a lot less fun.” The road to get here was long, and not easy. Sidenote: Holy fuck, 20 was 20 years ago! But forty as a destination feels like a goal reached, and overcoming the challenges along the way feels like a crowning achievement.
Forty seems old, but after getting over the initial shock of my twenties being half a lifetime ago, I’ve realized that who I am at forty is, in fact, exactly who I want to be when I grow up.