If you had asked me when I was 25 years old what turning 40 would feel like I probably would have grimaced, potentially taken a deep breath and thought about this point in time that was a long way in the future, and then I would have likely sighed. I think I might have felt that 40 was old, I think I probably felt that at 40 all the fun would be stopping, or would have already stopped, and I suspect I would have assumed that 40 just meant hurtling downhill.
The reality is that when I did turn 40, at the end of 2017, it was by far my favourite birthday yet, but the road to get there wasn’t a smooth one.
When I turned 37, I was more terrified of turning 40, or rather that the immovable date was looming so close, than I had ever been before. I viewed it as a landmark that would serve to symbolise all of the things I hadn’t achieved, all of the things I hadn’t done and that it represented the fact that I had failed. I wasn’t married, I wasn’t a mother, I didn’t own my home, I wasn’t successful in business and I was so disappointed and down on myself. I had resigned myself to the garbage pile.
But then something incredible happened. All of these perceived faults and flaws became overwhelming and over the course of a few months, feeling as though I didn’t have enough time to claw my life back to where I thought I should be, I hit rock bottom. And I don’t say this lightly, but that was the beginning of the best of my life. Because when you hit rock bottom you tend to ask yourself some tough questions. You have to be strong with yourself and you have to give straight-up, no BS, from-the-heart answers. The biggest surprise? Most of things I thought made me a reject or less than other people, were things I didn’t really want. So, at the age of 37 I asked myself, for the very first time, ‘what do you want?’
It wasn’t easy, but from that starting point I now find myself feeling happier, more fulfilled and centred than I ever have, and here’s why:
The word ‘no’ is a complete sentence.
I’ve stolen this line from Jane Fonda, but I suspect she won’t really mind as it’s perfect in this scenario. I have the disease to please, I am a card-carrying, fully paid-up people pleaser and it’s why I got to the age of 37 and realised I didn’t really know myself. I’d been so concerned with pleasing other people, in order to be liked, that I’d gone with the flow, agreed when deep down I didn’t and said ‘yes’ when I didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ You want to know how you can say ‘no’ as a complete sentence? When you know who you are and what you stand for. Back in my 30s I feel as though I let other people tell me what to do, make my decisions and, in some cases, take advantage of me. Why? Because I couldn’t bear the idea of them being upset with me. And if I ever did speak my mind, I resigned myself to the fact that I would now be hated. You know what I’d say to myself now? ‘Buckle up sweetheart, not everyone is going to like you. Get over it.’ Speaking your mind might not make other people like you, but it’ll make you like you and that’s more important, right?
You’re doing just fine.
For years I opted in to the belief that I should have done certain things by a certain age — get married, have children, buy a house — that kind of thing. I’d still like to buy a house, no doubt about it, but when it came to the white picket fence, having a husband and children, I realised that they hadn’t happened because I hadn’t made them my priority. If I’d really wanted them surely, I would have pursued them? Just before my 37th birthday a friend told me to ‘get on it’ because my window for having children was closing fast. What was I going to do? Spend more time on dating apps? Be less selective? Another, when I said I was looking forward to spending Friday night on my sofa with a glass of red and movie, said, ‘Well you’re not going to meet your future husband there.’ Other people’s expectations can really derail you and sometimes you just need to block them out and congratulate yourself for where you are. You might not have the things that they do, but do they have what you have? And does it really matter? Life isn’t a competition and if you’re happy with your lot, it takes someone with a lot of nerve to argue, right? Take a moment to congratulate yourself for all the things you have achieved because I can tell you now, you’re doing just fine.
You’re on your own, kid.
This one sounds depressing, but I find it incredibly empowering. I’m not saying we don’t need people because obviously a network of friends and family is one of life’s greatest delights, but there comes a point where you have to be able to sort out your own problems. I used to make decisions by committee, by texting a few friends for their opinion, because I would let their thoughts and feelings override my own — I assumed they knew better. You know the scenario, ‘this just happened to me, what do you think?’ Now, I take a beat and think, ‘this just happened to me, what do I think?’ I’m not saying there aren’t instances when I ask for advice, but I’m stronger in my feelings being just as valid as anyone else’s.
The good news is that, in my experience, your 30s and 40s are when you have the experience and social skills to be able to pull off these things together. You’re supposed to fail, you’re supposed to have heartache, you’re not supposed to glide through life unscathed, you’re supposed to look back and think ‘I could have handled that so much better,’ but all these things, although they may feel terrible at the time, actually make you a better version of yourself. Lean into the bad stuff, choose to learn from it, decide to move on and live the life you want. Now is your time.