24 days ago, I entered my fifth decade. Finished my 30s. Turned 30 years older than 10.
Okay, okay. Yes. I turned 40.
Forty seems such a milestone. It even sounds important. Go on. Say it out loud.
(Once again, with gusto.)
And yet, when I thought about sitting down to write this post, I still wasn’t quite sure how to articulate what I was feeling.
Was turning 40 going to be a freak-out moment? Was I going to break down and cry about how little I’ve achieved in my life? (Yes, maybe a little.) Or would this birthday be an awakening? A new start?
The truth is that I don’t feel strongly either way. What I do feel is a bit *meh*. Maybe it’s the whole being away from home thing, or the hefty realisation that the last six months have been insane. I haven’t had even a moment to give thought to a birthday, let alone a 40th. Either way, it’s happened: I’ve completed four decades on this planet and have just ambled into my fifth.
The transition has been fairly smooth. No lightning bolts or huge epiphanies. But there have been a few age-related freak-outs. My inner eyelids have developed this weird, saggy, wrinkly appearance (shocking, I know) and the number of grey hairs I now have is… too many. I’d like to attribute the rest of my droopy plumpness to turning 40, but the fact is that this is a pre-kids affliction!
I’d always thought that by 40 I’d have my life together. I’d own a nice home, and have a healthy degree of savings in the bank.
But who am I kidding? The topic of home ownership makes me tremble. I’m equal parts envious of people who own homes and scared of the commitment and sense of stillness brought about by a mortgage. I have a problem living within my means (argh!) and never actually manage to save for anything, let alone a house deposit. While my friends around the globe talk shop about door knobs, tiles, and paint colours, I’m surfing net-a-porter and adding items to my Wishlist that I simply, honestly, very unfortunately cannot at all afford.
But do I really want to own a home?
Sitting down to consider this very complex and pertinent question, the following realisation usually hits me smack, bang in the face: I wouldn’t change a thing about my life journey to date. Home is also where my family is, and my family is right here with me. I’ve travelled, met fabulous people, done crazy and irresponsible things, and as a result will have so many memories to share with my girls when they’re older. I’ve met the man of my dreams and we’ve created a family together. One that we’re proud of and that we love more than anything. And even though we talk frequently about our pre-kid days (sleeping, eating at nice restaurants, two incomes, travel without stress…), there’s no way we’d change a thing.
Yes, I’m proud of my life. And turning 40 has certainly helped me realise that. I’ve reached a really key milestone, an opportunity for me to sit back and reflect on my life, and to consider where it might be headed.
If anything, turning 40 has been an opportunity to breathe.
Here’s what I know.
Okay, okay. It’s no secret. Women’s magazines will have you believe that you’ll have all the confidence in the world when you enter your fifth decade. You’ll give zero f*cks about what people think of you and you’ll rise up, tall and strong, above anyone who tries to bring you down.
The truth is – for me, at least – that I still care. I still give f*cks. I am self-conscious about my appearance and nervous about making new friends. I chastise myself if I start rambling too much or when I serve up a nice, big social faux pas. On the upside, I have less tolerance for bullsh*it and for hanging out with people just because I feel an obligation to do so. If I socialise with you, it’s because I want to.
Importantly, I’ve found that I’m markedly more confident when it comes to speaking up. If I don’t like my haircut, I’ll say so! No more leaving the salon feeling sh*tty. Sh*tty is a thing of the past.
Goodbye, drama! We all have those crazymakers in our lives. They’re the ones who can’t seem to locate your home (even though they have a smartphone and were born post-1960) so you end up wandering the streets, sending out flares and homing pigeons, all with three kids hanging off your back. Crazymakers always have some sort of family/work/friendship drama unfolding and need your advice… NOW! They’re those people who bore us sick. And yet, for whatever weird reason, we’re more than happy to sit through long dinners with them when the most interesting thing they have to talk about is the colour of their floors.
Coddling the crazymakers? Nope. I’ve chosen to let go.
No is a complete sentence. Learning this has been incredibly refreshing.
Sure, I’ll help your cousin’s son write his CV. I’ll even draft all his personalised cover letters for his graduate applications and give him several rounds of bonus mock interviews too.
No. Nope. Nada. Not anymore. Because whenever I say yes, now it’s because I want to and not because I feel obliged to. This means that my life – and hopefully the lives of everyone in my little family – is richer and more authentic as a result. When we’re authentic, we have more energy. And goodness knows we adults need all the energy we can get.
And so it goes: so far, so good.
The key to any good birthday, of course, is a party. Or in my case, a festival. And especially when I’ve been doing so much thinking.
The only cure for reflection-induced fatigue is wine, right?
I’ve had an awesome weekend away in Napa with Cam and the girls, a terrific San Francisco celebration with new friends (dinner and cocktails followed by the WORST hangover I’ve had in a long time), and now I’m en route to part three of my 40th birthday celebration: a girls’ trip to New York City (sans kids) with my London buddies.
If I ever get there, that is.
But so what? Viva la birthday.