I have been excited about turning 40 for quite some time. And the closer the new decade neared, the more eager I became for it to begin.
Perhaps the better inquiry is to ask the question that often precedes the topic of most Wednesday posts here on TSLL – Why Not (or shall I say pourquoi pas)?
American culture would have us accept the untruths that too often we accept unconsciously and just as unconsciously project onto the women around us whether they are older, younger or our own age. And the best way I can think of, and try to model and inspire here on TSLL, is to question the culture if it isn’t working for you (I have no doubt men too have their own untruths projected onto them, but I can only only speak from my experience; however, the beneficial shift is not synonymous with any one gender).
Truth resides in reality, and the only reality that should be perpetuated about reaching 40, heck 30, and even 50, 60, 70 and beyond is that it is the number of years we have had the good fortunate to be alive.
The next question I pose to myself when I recognize how many years of life I have been given is, “How did you spend them?”
Forty years is a healthy amount of time, roughly equal parts youth, under the guidance of parents, and adult, under the own self-navigation, to cultivate a foundation of awareness about ourselves and the world, and thus come to some clarity regarding the direction we wish to travel in the next decade and beyond.
Subsequent questions that follow: What have I done with those years? How have I chosen to grow as an individual, expand my awareness, and how have I applied the lessons gained from the obstacles that life presented and the lessons I have gained from the successes achieved?
First, I’d like to share three ahas I have discovered over the course of the past 10 years in response to the above questions, and then I will explain why I am completely giddy about turning forty today – February 28th.
1. Focus on Substance or Surface
The quality of our lives elevates when we focus on substance over surface. From strengthening our overall health and understanding the value of muscle and flexibility in our physical body as well as our mind, and letting go of the myths of skinny for societal acceptance and instead embracing the gift of a body that enables us to downward dog, soul cycle, slice through the water, climb the mountain or navigate a challenging negotiation in our careers, when we choose substance over surface, we choose to live well. In other words, the fundamental areas of our lives: health, relationships, career, and self-care are strengthened when we go deeper, and refrain from seeking acceptance and instead seek understanding from which we can apply the knowledge to our lives.
2. Be Determined or Deterred
Throughout our entire lives, of the first 40 I am certain, and here after, I would imagine as well, we will face challenges, but as I traveled through my 30s, I was butting up against challenges in areas I was nervously certain were my passion and others I was told I should pursue but was not convinced of myself. Through these challenges, I discovered that the challenges I persevered through until I was able to navigate and reach the other side were indeed ones for which I held deep passion and clarity as to why I pursued them in the first place – for my journey – for what was important and innate to my life and eventual legacy.
The challenges that I eventually lost the energy to fight or felt I was banging my head against a wall with no hope of attaining what I sought were pursuits that did not have substance in my life, held no value, no purpose and often would diminish what I could offer or who I was. Letting these challenges become lessons in where and what not to place my energy in was a liberation, and gave me more energy to pursue the true passions and purpose in my life.
Often, upon reflection, there was one clear distinction between the different pursuits – (1) the ones I persevered through and (2) the ones I recognized to be not in alignment with who I am: the former was pursued from an innate place within myself and the latter was pursued because I felt it was the “thing to do” or “the right thing” or “the safe thing” or “the easy thing” to do.
It has been my experience that my 30s revealed to me what courage I have within myself in order to be my true self. And it was through each of these challenges that I became clear about who that was without the societal scripts leading the way.
3.Choose to Soar or Conform
I didn’t attend my 20th high school reunion. I don’t have any regrets about this, but of course there are classmates I wish I had the opportunity to catch up with as I know them to be the most amazing of persons in their intellect, kindness and integrity. One reason for not attending may have been not having the energy to explain my journey one more time to others of my same age who had chosen the more “valued” path by the zeitgeist. And while this is a lame excuse, I simply wasn’t ready or strong enough at that time to fully stand in my journey. But the good news is that the strength was building, and finally, after just two more years, it would be with much more ease that I would look forward to attending.
However, there is a divide that happens unless we actively choose to remain respectful of the reality that there are many paths to live and live well. So long as both parties in friendships, familial, collegial and acquaintance relationships support this understanding, we enable each other to soar. But if we find ourselves in relationships in which we are being passively or directly asked to conform, then in order to soar, we must let go.
The letting go became easier and easier in my 30s, and now, I am more clearly able to discern from the initial get-to-know-you period whether I want to invest more time and energy.
The soaring, when we choose to build a social support structure and also partake in others’ social support structure, enables each of us to try what we dream about, slip and fall but have the strength to stand up and continue striving for what we have the curiosity to pursue.
Conformity asks us to hold back, asks us to shrink, to become less, even if we don’t fully know what we can become. In conformity, there is a perceived “known” which is what feels safe, but in remaining, we are not able to reach our fullest potential and thus the world is lacking a gift that only we each can give.
I am confident that the most difficult part of soaring is in the first few stages. For when we leave the ground, fewer obstacles are in front of us. That doesn’t mean we can be complacent. We must continue to fine tune our wings, our minds, as it would be, so that we can navigate successfully, but think about a bird as it soars through the air for a moment. There are moments when it just glides – heading in the direction it desires and sometimes swirling (dancing) about for fun. In such moments, not as much energy is asked or needed. Then of course, the head winds come, and it must maneuver wisely, but it can because it has conserved its energy.
I know the analogy is not perfect, but if you are stuck in a place in your life where you are considering conforming versus soaring, just know, it is the getting off the ground that is often the most difficult part of the journey. My thirties, I have felt, were the getting-off-the-ground period, but it all began with choosing to get on the runway, gather up all my gumption and run full speed with all of the tools made available to me at the the time. And then, I found some courage, brought along the support from those who believed in me and took a leap.
It’s okay to look down from time to time, but enjoying the flight, being present, is quite sweet indeed. Because while yes, it is in looking down, we see how far we have come; it is in being appreciative of our ability to soar that will keep us vigilant, conscious and thoughtful about each next direction we take.
Let the Decade of My 40s Begin
American publisher, writer and literary agent Walter B. Pitkin may have been right when he wrote his book Life Begins at 40 (copyright 1932), and while my first forty years are filled with beautiful memories, moments, struggles and experiences I could not have dreamed about and feel most fortunate to have part of my life’s journey, I am giddy about the opportunity to turn 40 and strive forward. And while I will certainly, as readers would expect per the approach of living simply luxuriously, be living a life that is true to my strengths, passions and values, I look forward to playing my part in shifting the perception of what being 40 and beyond can be for women and, for that matter, anyone who dares to let go of societal limitations and live their best life.
~PAST BIRTHDAY POSTS from the ARCHIVES:
~A simpler approach this year – (2015)
~Appreciative & Exhilarated (2014)
~A Work in Progress (2013)
~33 Lessons Learned (2012)
~A Simply Luxurious Year (2010)
Image: captured during my trip to Provence this past summer – note to self – when you find something that takes your breath away, that once was only known through photographs and brochures, find any space you can along the side of the road, stop the car, get out, who cares if people smile at the silly tourist, and soak in the reality of the moment that you have the good fortune to experience.