Today is my birthday. And like on most birthdays I sit and reflect on my previous year and contemplate the year before. Folks may do this on New Year’s Eve, but as I like to think I am the heroine of my story, I do it on my birthday. This year has been no exception. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was the hardest year of my life – it has also been the BEST year too.
A mythical experience for females, 40 is the number of no return.
It is a word that changes everything. Forty is the number that we associate with gray hair and stiff backs and with shorter hair and anti-aging wrinkle creams. For me, forty was all of that and none of that. Like most 39-year-old women I approached 40 with a sense of dread, absolute terror thinking it was all downhill from here. I was not going down without a fight.
I decided to make some changes.
My 40th journey around the sun would be my year of “Yes!” This year I was just going to go for it. If someone asked me to do something – I did it. I was asked to go to a few conferences where I knew literally 1 person – and had the best time. I agreed to just show up at coffee shops and meet people I had never met before, all because friends thought we would make a good connection. Wow were they right.
I had always been present and a great support system in other people’s lives – now I was “showing up” in my own life too. By simply saying yes, I invited opportunities into my life that I had previously felt reserved for other people.
I did things that I was terrified of.
I took my kids to the movies. With a friend, I took my kids to the zoo in Washington D.C. Imagine it – 2 moms, 6 kids from ages 12 – 4 and we had no clue what we were doing. When I broke down, she had my back and when she was ready to lose it I had hers.
I started admitting publically how hard it is to raise 3 boys on your own. It’s ugly. Sometimes I am so tired, I can’t remember my name, let alone my kids’ names. It’s OK to admit that it’s hard – because it is.
I started dating. And while my adventures in dating this year are the ultimate disaster story, I learned so much about myself. I know what I do and don’t want in a partner. Plus, looking back, it was fun to dress up every now and again, considering I’m usually in a messy bun, skorts, and a t-shirt trying to impress no one.
I started doing things by myself. I went to the movies by myself, I went to dinner by myself. Doing things by myself isn’t as bad as I made it out to be. Isn’t it amazing how many things we imagine for ourselves that end up being nonsense?
I stopped believing my own nonsense – the lies I tell myself. I choose to believe in myself instead. It isn’t always easy. I get doubts just like anyone else. Now, I try to ask myself, “Will this really matter in 5 years?” If the answer is no, then I really try to occupy my thoughts with something else. Spending time with myself really brought me to understand who I wasn’t and who I was. I became ok with me.
I stopped apologizing. As a people pleaser, I really had spent a significant portion of my time taking ownership of other people’s feelings. Those feelings don’t belong to me, so apologizing wasn’t helpful. Instead of saying “sorry I am late…” with some explanation of my tardiness, I say, “thank you for your patience” and leave it at that. No explanation needed.
I learned to be present. That most important lesson came following the death of my mother and grandmother. My mother’s death was very sudden and unexpected. In one moment, it became apparent to me that our lives can change in an instant. One minute you can be talking about hurricane survival and just 7 hours later you call and she doesn’t answer the phone, and never will again. It is so important to live in the moment. Even if you have no clue what you are doing. It’s OK to not know. It is absolutely OK to get everything wrong today and wake up and be a rockstar tomorrow. We are all just practicing this together, aren’t we?
I walked into my fortieth year, not sure what would happen. Now at 41, yes, my hair is the same purple and red as it was in high school, but the biggest changes I made were all within me. It’s been a great year. I haven’t found the man of my dreams or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I sure did find me. And that’s better than anything.