A friend of mine turned 41 last month, and she mentioned that she wanted her 30s back. I found her comment intriguing because at the ripe old age of 42, I (usually) don’t feel that way at all.
Sure, I wouldn’t mind my 30-something metabolism and lack of age spots, but what I recall of my 30s is that they were some of the most stressful years of my life. You couldn’t pay me enough to repeat them.
As I pondered my friend’s statement, though, I remembered how I felt turning 41. It kind of sucked. Turning 40 is a celebration of womanhood. Turning 41 is a realization that your 30s are gone, and you’re now closer to 50 than 30.
At 41, I started noticing just how much my body was aging and I wondered why the loss of youth hadn’t been replaced by all that wisdom people speak about. I felt older, but definitely not wiser. In fact, I felt pretty lost. We had just moved to a new neighborhood, and I had embarked on a job hunt after determining I still didn’t quite know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Everything felt out of sorts. Then it all began to gel between 41 and 42, and I’ve heard similar stories from others. I embraced my 40s. If I wasn’t getting any younger, I sure as hell had better start living as if time is running out – because it is.
Now I know that much of the stress of my 30s was self-induced. I allowed myself to be anxious and miserable because I lacked the confidence and courage to change things in my life that I didn’t like. I was afraid to ask for what I needed, and that didn’t start changing until I turned 39. Since then, I’ve experienced a snowball effect.
Wading into my 40s brought perhaps my first realization that I’m not going to live forever. In fact, if I’m lucky I still have half my life left. If I’m not lucky, then I’d sure as hell better be making the most of the time that’s left.
All the things I want to do “someday” aren’t so easily pushed aside anymore because apparently, “someday” is now. My fear of asking for what I need is now trumped by an increasingly loud and insistent voice yelling inside my head, “Don’t wait! Live before it’s too late!”
Case in point, last December I asked my boss for reduced hours starting with the new year. Despite my complete confidence that she would be supportive, I was terrified to have this conversation. I made up excuses for months. It wasn’t until I started envisioning my life with less hours at work that my giddiness overpowered my fear.
Last month, I started a new work schedule with reduced hours. I should have been dancing out the door at 2 p.m. without a care in the world. Nope, not me.
Instead, the voices inside my head went to war. Voice number one was cheering, “Good for you. You work hard. You’re good at what you do. You deserve this.” Voice number two offered up a constant barrage of, “Who the hell do you think you are leaving when everyone else is still working?”
The result is that I spent nearly two straight weeks plagued by mild TMJ and extreme tension headaches. They didn’t subside until I took a much needed visit to see my faraway circle of friends in Denver.
There, during a brunch that led well into the afternoon, my girlfriends took up the chant of voice number one and amplified it. Their certainty in my awesomeness could leave no doubt that I deserved this change and that I needed to embrace it.
That’s what good friend do. They are our cheerleaders and when we’re lucky they chant loud enough to drown out our self doubts. I’m learning that girlfriends are particularly critical in midlife when our younger self doubts are replaced with new ones.
We need girlfriends as we age because someone needs to remind us that we are awesome, strong amazing women.
When we impulsively sign up for a half marathon even though we haven’t run in months and are knees aren’t what they used to be, girlfriends are the first to say, “you can totally do it!” When it feels like new wrinkles are erupting every day and our bellies are pushing the limits of our jeans, they say, “Don’t you remember the outfit you wore last weekend? You were smokin’ hot!”
When we scream at our children and feel like terrible mothers, they immediately list all of the amazing things we do for our children. Then they share the last time they had a child-induced meltdown.
When we feel like our marriages have lost their luster, our girlfriends remind us that all marriages go through down phases, they confide that they aren’t having sex like bunnies either and then they brainstorm ways to spice things up.
When we turn 41, girlfriends are there to tell us, “Don’t worry. Your 40s will be awesome because you are awesome.” Then, they tell us old age will be even more amazing because we’ll all move into tiny houses right next to each other and live like the Golden Girls.
I came back from Denver with renewed confidence in myself. My headaches aren’t completely gone (a weekend trip can’t cure a lifetime of anxiousness around work and not feeling “good enough”), but I know it’s time for voice number one to take control – not just in my current job situation, but in life moving forward.
No, I’m not getting any younger, but some of the most awesome women I know have told me I am getting more awesome. If midlife is about wisdom, I think it’s time to wise up and start believing them.