Turning 40 can feel alternately like a Mardi Gras parade thrown just for you, or like getting run over by a tractor trailer you've seen coming for twelve long months. The devil, as always, is in the details.
Might I lament the loss of my grossly misspent youth? Might I torment myself by counting the abundance of crinkles that fan out from the outer corners of my eyes, or the third (!) frown line that has decided to join her two long-standing sisters whenever I'm out in the bright sun without sunglasses? Might I berate myself for not being enough: thin, young, smart, successful, worldly, informed, compassionate, fit, strong, well read, published…?
But I'm trying not to.
Instead, I've ushered in my fourth decade surrounded by loved ones who traveled both within walking distance and across state lines to help me bid farewell to one of my most memorable decades and greet a new one with laughter, gratitude and (cautious) optimism that my forties will be my best years yet. There is nothing so humbling as walking into a room and realizing that some of the people you love most in this world have taken time out of their busy lives to show up and tell you they love you. When you aren’t so busy trying to recover your wits so your brain can catch up to your eyes and register the faces before you, your knees become weak with the emotion of it all. You are loved. It’s as simple—and as awesome—as that.
I can’t really immerse myself into my new age without first looking back at the last ten years, though. My 30’s have shaped me into the now 40 year old woman I am today, and I need to take a few moments to express with a thankful heart all the experiences that have brought me here, sitting at my desk in New York City, pinching myself that I live here, and that I am loved by such incredible souls.
So, to my 30s, I say:
Thank You For the Magic. And for Unapologetically, Unflinchingly and Repeatedly Kicking My Ass.
Love? Madly in! Happiness? WHOO HOO! A fierce independent streak? Hell yeah! Friendships that have grown ever closer with each passing year? So blessed to say yessssss. Health issues? Finally clearing up! Let’s do this! Slow-growing fissure between spouses? Uh oh. Heartbreak? Check. Divorce? Gutwrenching. Financial terror? Hello, friend! Starting over? Yep. Leaving a job at a company I loved after 10 years? Why not?! Moving to one of the most expensive cities in the world to start over? Sure! Discovering that the job I had lined up once I got there fell through within 2 weeks? Ok, this is beginning to lose its luster. Working 3 jobs to try and cobble together enough money for groceries and a Metro Card? Sign me up! Having everyone that I “left behind” tell me they thought I should come home? Ugh. Yeah. Opening the mail to find a check from my parents because they felt bad I had to pay for train fare home for Christmas? Yep. Sure did. And I sure did cash it, too.
Shall I continue?
But I won’t.
Instead, I Will Say Again, "Thank You, Third Decade."
Thank you for giving me more than I could handle to show me that I could. Thank you for reminding me that with beloved friends and family, the dark days were always greeted by a dawn. Thank you for challenging me in ways I couldn’t foresee, and for helping me prove myself—to myself. Thank you for cracking my heart in a million pieces so I could let new people—and love—in. Thank you for teaching me to find my voice, and for continually beating me over the head with lessons that required me to use it. Thank you for showing me that sometimes, optimism, in all its naïveté, is worth riding until you arrive home. Thank you for providing me with endless opportunities to both see humanity and to question it. Thank you for never allowing me to fall into the trap of being so complacent in my life that I stop seeing the magic and forget to feel the fear. Thank you for reminding me to put one foot in front of the other on most days, but to also make ridiculous leaps of faith to shake things up. Thank you for helping me accept the woman in the mirror, even though she looks so very different than she did 10 years ago. Thank you for instilling in me passion, strength, and yes, even my insecurities—they keep me humble and challenge me to try. Thank you for the gift of love in all its forms. Thank you for health and a wealth of friendships…those I have, and those I’ve lost along the way. Thank you for bringing me here, to 40, and for delivering me with care to this new decade's doorstep.
And Now, Looking Ahead...
So, I'm here. I've arrived with a neck that's out of whack and age spots (!) on my hands and eyes that look perpetually tired. But I'm here. Sometimes, I forget that this is the life I've dreamed of. In the day to day, anxiety can erase what we so meticulously manifested; what we secretly feared would never come true. Yet I'm here, at 3:10 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, typing away in a sun-soaked library room in between writing copy for a few of my clients. I'm a freelance writer, and though that comes with its own challenges (and there are many), I wouldn't change it for the world.
Yet at 40, I'm not where I thought I'd be. By now, I thought I would have achieved the elusive "security" that so many of us have yet to catch. I thought my bank account would look different, that I would have traveled the world and have an apartment of my own.
But I am where I am, and I'm learning to be ok with that. I am challenged daily. I am in still in love with words. I meet people who inspire me regularly, who have also heeded that call to live their passion. I have more than enough stuff. I love our apartment and adore our neighborhood. I'm lucky to share all this with someone I love.
As I move into this decade, I aim to do it with grace and compassion--for myself as much as others. I seek patience (toward more than just babies and puppies) and stillness deep in my soul. I want to be present in action and thought; I want to make memories that belong only to me and those with whom I share them. I promise to read as much as I can get my hands on and wrap my mind around; I pledge to make writing for me my top priority. I open my hear to love and to the pain that goes with it; I refuse to avert my eyes from the broken world we live in. I will not deny others their humanity. I vow to continue using my voice and to acknowledge the confidence that arises each time I do. I commit to seeing my capabilities and strengths for myself, and to not waiting on others to point them out.
Forty may well be the new thirty, or it may look completely different than I envisioned. But it might just be the decade in which I finally give myself permission to accept myself for me, and to be grateful for all that I've become.