11 Ways Life is Better in my 40s
Updated: Mar 19
As a woman who just turned 40, I can’t say I’m entering fearlessly into middle age. My body has a few more aches and pains than normal. The wrinkles have definitely started to settle in, and I’m getting a few more gray hairs. As women, we face double standards that make it difficult for us to stay relevant in our older years. I’m not thrilled about aging but I’m trying to embrace it as much as I can, and I know by comparison’s sake, I am still quite young. I also know I am so fortunate to have my health and all of the blessings I’ve been given.
I am on a quest to get as much enjoyment out of life as I can, for as long as I can. Luckily, as we get older, we gain a wisdom about us that can serve as a sort of superpower (if we allow it), to help us keep growing and enjoying life from new heights. In my work as a full time guidance counselor for middle school students, I see the inner turmoil that adolescents deal with on a daily basis. My students give me pause to reflect on the insecure child I used to be and serve as a reminder of how much I’ve developed and grown as a human. For better or for worse, the time spent helping them through adversity does not allow me to forget how far I’ve come. I do not proclaim to have it all figured out, but in many ways life is better now at 40, and here’s how:
1. I’m not as hard on myself.
I have learned through years of practice how to tame the negative self talk demon in my head that was overly critical and used to berate me on a constant basis. I know how to filter the negativity, whether it be from myself or others, and put it into 3 categories:
1. Valuable insight that I can reframe to help me grow.
2. Something that’s true that I don’t like about myself but I can reframe to be less harsh. I can accept that I am flawed and that it’s okay to not like certain things about myself.
3. Complete and utter nonsense. Disregard.
2. I realize I’m not responsible for other people’s happiness
...or any other emotion for that matter. I am responsible for my actions but I’m not responsible for how they affect others. People interpret everything through their own filter based on their life experiences and ability to process information. I cannot control how a person reacts to things. I can just do my best to be a good person and be myself. I used to feel that I needed to entertain others as if their ability to find entertainment in things was my responsibility.
I will never forget the epiphany I had in a conversation with my father after just completing graduate school in counseling. I asked my dad if he would come to my graduation (not the formal cap and gown graduation, but the more intimate graduation with people in my specific program). It meant a lot to me if he would attend because he would meet important mentors and classmates, and gain insight into what my program was all about. He started making lame excuses, down to his hands being dirty (he was a carpenter).
I expressed some disappointment in his excuses and he proceeded to try to guilt-trip me for making him feel guilty. I said “I’m just telling you how I feel. If you feel guilty about it, that is on you.” He ended up coming. That is just one pivotal example that helped free me from the burden of carrying other people’s emotions on my shoulders.
3. I am enough.
I used to have a complex that I wasn’t cool enough, good enough, or interesting enough for people, and therefore not worthy to be in their presence. I used to assume people wouldn’t want to be friends with me so I shrunk myself and limited my range of experiences and interactions that I would allow into my life. Again, when I was in grad school, light bulbs started going off. I actually WAS enough. I WAS worthy. That didn’t mean everyone would like me or click with me, but I wasn’t going to limit myself based on my projections about how people would judge me based on some sort of perceived status that they had. I started to recognize that I didn’t need to be the funniest, or the smartest, or the most interesting. I didn’t need to be. I was enough just as I was. When I start to doubt myself, I just give myself that little reminder and I’m okay.
4. I am not the “middle man” or the solver of other people’s problems.
I have to have this mentality in the line of work that I do as a counselor in order to keep my sanity. But this holds especially true for my family. Growing up, my brother (only 16 months younger than me), and I were very different people and we were in heated conflict all the time. There were many factors that contributed to this but one thing I would try to do was police my his behavior to create peace for my mom, or communicate to my brother for my mom.
As soon as I stepped out of this triangulation role, my brother and I miraculously stopped having conflict. I can provide guidance and support but I am not a go between. I will not be triangulated. And people ultimately have to solve their own problems. As a parent, it is hard to stand by and watch my kids struggle in some situations, but I know that they will not learn the skills to deal with their own problems if I jump in to solve them every time.
5. I know how to “fake it ‘til I make it.”
Let’s not confuse things here. I’m not a proponent of being a fake person or living a life that is a facade. However, if I hadn’t learned to fake it from time to time, there is no way I would be where I am today. I grew up a highly insecure person. I have learned that you get back what you put out into the world. If you put out negativity, you get it back in spades. If you present yourself as insecure, people will see you that way and not want to be around you. If you show up to a job interview and you don’t present as confident in your abilities, you are not getting the job.
I get up in front of middle school students to run assemblies. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I pretend I do so the kids don’t boo me and shame me off the stage. Sometimes shit just needs to get done and things need to get accomplished. You can’t reach the other side of a challenge to feel real genuine confidence in yourself, if you don’t have success to build upon and be proud of.
I have dealt with depression on and off in my life, and social anxiety for the better part of my life. Some (not all) of getting through depression is slapping a smile on your face and interacting positively with people so that you get positivity in return, thereby lifting up your actual mood. It’s dragging yourself into the shower and getting dressed when you don’t want to in order to get outside and do something, because if you don’t, your depression will just keep getting worse. “Smile and the world smiles back at you.” That is true, and yes, sometimes that initial smile is fake one. And that’s okay.
6. Age is only a number.
When I was 27, I thought I was old. Boy, was I wrong! As a 40 year old, I am very conscious of my age, mainly when I’m around younger people. I have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that younger folk, as I might call them, have no interest in spending their time with an oldie like me! I have to remind myself that this is a projection I make onto them. In fact, outside of dating, where I try to stay in my lane, I cannot point to a single time where my age has gotten in the way of genuine interactions or relationships with other people, as long as I don’t make it an issue.
My experiences traveling abroad have really illustrated this for me. For me, I am drawn to the spirit of a person, not their age. I’ve had a great time with people much older than me and much younger than me. Individuals older than me have proven that you can be awesome at any age, and the travelers younger than me have proven that they see me as a person; not an age. I remember sitting at a bar with two of my girlfriends in Nicaragua. We were beside two really pretty girls who looked barely old enough to drink, and their personalities were so “blah.” That moment just solidified it for me. It’s about the attitude, not the age. If I can stay out of my own way, getting older ain’t no thing!
7. When it comes to dating, I’m not in a hurry.
When I was in my 20’s, I was in such a hurry. A hurry to find the person that I was going to marry so that I could have children with that person before my eggs shrivelled up and died. Morbid, I know. Ahh, the things men don’t have to worry about! Not only did I need to find the perfect partner for me, but I needed to find a good father for my future children. But I didn’t want to find that person too soon because I didn’t want to regret not having fun in my 20’s. Ugh, the inhumanity of it all!
Under that pressure, I ended up marrying the wrong person and now I’m divorced. Ugh. I don’t regret any of it, and he is a perfect father to my children. But now, I’m not in a hurry anymore. I’ve done the married thing; it’s out of my system. I’ve had my children. I can just focus on myself and dating who I want to date; not who I’m going to breed with. It’s very freeing. Plus, I know a hell of a lot more about what I want and what I don’t want. Amen.
8. Better balance.
I know myself pretty well at this point. I know what I like and what I need, and this helps me to create balance in my life and set boundaries around the use of my time. It doesn’t always work out as I would like, but I know what I need to do to take care of myself and I’m not afraid to say no when needed. I’m open to saying “yes” when the right moment arises. I do a lot less silly nonsense that isn’t worth my time. I can be a lot more choosy.
9. Financial security.
While my finances are not where I’d like them to be (having children and then getting a divorce has really taken a toll), I’m still better off than where I was in my 20’s. I’ve made a couple smart real estate decisions that have allowed me a small cushion and I’m making more money than I ever have in the past. This could all change when I move closer to my children and am forced to find new employment, but I’m trying not to worry too much about that.
10. I have faith
...and I don’t mean in the religious sense. I’ve been through enough trials and tribulations. I’ve made enough lemonade out of lemons at this point to have faith in myself and my ability to handle what life throws at me. I have worries but I possess an overall sense that all will work out.
11. I can let go and give in:
Being late. I used to freak out when I was running late to things. I do my best to be on time (and I’m pretty punctual in general), but I accept that there’s only so much I can do when I’m already late, so I just give into it and calm the f down.
I’ve learned to give into anxiety. If you’re an anxious person, hopefully you’ve discovered that fighting anxiety only makes it stronger. What I do is expect it and make friends with it. That keeps it at a manageable level and reduces its power.
I can’t change people. I’ve spent a lot of time getting frustrated when my relationships with people don’t meet my expectations. I’ve learned to try to meet people where they are at and accept them for the value they bring into my life, even if I wish it was more.
Worrying is not productive. I spent so much of my life worrying about everything. I still worry but it’s a lot more under control than it used to be. I put my worries into two categories: things I can control and things I can’t. I focus my attention on taking action on the worries over which I have some control, and shift my energy away from things I can’t control. I give into the fact that some things are going to happen that I don’t like, and if they do, I will just have to deal with it when the time comes. No amount of worrying will change what I can’t control, so I just don’t spend time on it.