Saturday, January 2, 2010

40 from the other side

As of Nov. 19, I am 40 years old.

Cripes! When did this happen? My childhood, my teens, college, my 20s--it all seems like yesterday. Cliched but true. Forty has always seemed so, so far away. It was the age of adults, of parents, of authority figures, of someone else, not me. Now I am looking at 40 from the other side.

I havent't written much about this milestone, because I needed some time to settle into it, to determine how I felt about what everyone says is a momentous occaision in the course of life. I'm still not sure if I know what I am feeling now--nearly two months into my 40th year--but I figure that it's time that I digest the moment and get on with it.

Turning feels differently than turning 30--at least is has been different for me. Thirty (and the other important ages I have passed) marked no major soul searching, no shift in the way I thought about myself. Forty is different. At 40, I feel more...myself. I wrote the following in a post about a friend labeling my taking up running as a "mid-life crisis:"
Contrary to popular belief, I suspect that really good personal change doesn't happen until middle age. Around 40 is when most people reach the "sweet spot" in their lives--at least I think that I have. After nearly four decades, I know myself in a way that was impossible at, say,19. I am less bound to (or concerned about) others' expectations than I was at 29. I have the disposable income to make more of the things I want happen. I am less fearful. I have more confidence in myself. Also, like a student entering the final two years of her high school career--I know the next years really, really count. In the words of Andy Dufrense, now is the time to "get busy living or get busy dying."

I have always admired athletic women. I have always wanted to be one of those women who could jog for miles or hike to the top of a mountain or go kayaking. My desire to be that woman has not changed in 20 years. But back in my early 20s, I would have told you that I was simply not that sort of woman. Hell, I couldn't even
ever climb the rope and ring that stupid bell in elementary school gym class. I would have blanched at what other folks would say when they heard that I was running. "What? You?" Now, I will tell you that I can be any sort of woman I want to and screw what anyone thinks about it. This attitude is how I was able to cut off my permed hair and go natural four years ago--another decision I would have been terrified about in my younger years. This attitude is also why I can embrace my nerdy bookishness and my love of rock, pop and alt country. I don't care what black girls usually do. I don't care what women usually do. I don't care about what I usually do. For better or worse, this empowered thinking took me years to cultivate and I don't think I am a rarity among women (and, actually, men either). I think this is why women (and men) sometimes make drastic changes as they enter mid-life--because they finally have the confidence to do the things they have long wanted to do, but have not.
At 40, I feel unencumbered by should dos, must dos and people thinks. This is so different from, say, my mid-20s. And yet, I still feel young. I think I still am young. I understand now what I used to hear my elders say when I was a kid: That even at 50 or 60 or older, they really didn't feel any different than they did at 20 or 30. I still want love, want to look good, want adventure, want to learn and discover new things, want to have a good time. My definition of all those things may have evolved, but I still want them.

40 feels light.

As I was turning 40, my oldest friend, who is barely two years older than I, was facing a medical crisis, the resolution of which marked an end to fertility, one of society's markers of youth in women. This occurence forced me to face another side of reaching middle age (and, yes, I suppose I am of middle age now, though the term makes me cringe). At 40, I had to face my friend's mortality and, thus, my own.

I was the last of my closest circle of friends to hit the four decade mark. Our bodies--no matter how youthful we look--have four decades of wear on them. Sometimes, like when I finished a 5k last October, my body surprises me with what it can do. Sometimes I feel every one of my 40 years...and then some. (I came to rue all the liquor and cake I consumed on my birthday weekend, for instance.)

My friends and I, we don't talk about crap apartments, internships and annoying bosses anymore. And no matter what "Sex and the City" tells you, when my 40-something girlfriends and I get together now, we don't talk about hot clubs and multiple paramours. We talk about mortgages and travel plans and money and being the boss and husbands and kids and dating post-35. It is good conversation, but it is definitely grown-up conversation. We talk about other things, yes, but our conversations are weighted by responsiblity, not the carefree exchanges of two decades ago.

Where once everything seemed to be ahead of me, and I spoke with wonderment about the future, there is a sense now that time is much shorter--that my life doesn't begin "for real" somewhere down the road (as I thought it did when I was in my 20s); my life is now. And while there is much I still plan to achieve, the reality is that some of the things I had marked for the future will remain undone. When you are 20, it is never too late to do anything. When you are 40, sometimes it is.

40 can feel heavy, too.

I think, though, that I will spend my time embracing the "lightness" of middle age. There is no sense stewing too much about the big 4-0. After all, no matter how I feel, it is what it is. And time will continue to march on. Beside, as my father always says, the alternative to growing old is much worse than aging.

So, here I am on the other side of 40. And I've decided it's not so bad.


Reggie said...

Well I can tell you one thing, 40 isn't the new 30. 40 is 40. I'm on the other side of 40; and I can tell you that the day that I turned 40, I felt 40. Even though that's been a few years back, I still feel 40; and I guess I'll feel 40 until 50 smacks me upside the head.

msladydeborah said...


When I reach the age of 40, I was very comfortable within myself. I felt very wise and very capable. My sons were grown and almost grown and my sense of myself was beginning to re-rise to my pre-wife and motherhood days. It was the most empowering feeling that I had experienced in a long time.

I celebrated my 56 birthday on November 15th. I feel very good even at this phase of my life. I am a grandmother of 5 now. Life is good.

In a culture that shuns maturity, it is often difficult to be okay with the aging process. I am blessed to still have my mother's presence. She is still very capable and a beautiful sista/woman. I hope that if I am blessed to live a long time, that I will always be able to live a good quality of life. That's what's really important.

Liz said...

Happy belated birthday Tami! Love that "get busy living or get busy dying" quote, it sums up exactly what I felt when I turned 40 two years ago.

kristine said...

I know for me that my 40's have been my happiest decade. i'm 45 and i love my 40's and because of this am looking forward to my 50's. in my 20's and 30's i was meeting lots of people and not knowing who would stay and who would go. in my 40's i now have friends that i have been with for 20 + years that i know will stick with me through thick and thin because they have. it's wonderful. my relationship is more satisfying, my career even while i mull a change, i'm a mom which didn't happen till i was 38. why on earth our culture celebrates the brasiness of youth i cannot figure out when other cultures celebrate age and wisdom and a certain - as you say 'lightness.'

mmmpossible said...

I turned 45 on the 17th of October and I can tell you that the only thing I questioned was why I put so many constraints and expectations on myself. Life is to be lived and loved for who YOU are. Sometimes it takes turning 40(and beyond) to get that. Welcome to the club! You have crossed the burning sands and will be no worse for the wear.

Be Well

Gail said...

I am turning 45 and I am more apprehensive about this milestone than I was about turning 40. I think for me the issue is around what I want to accomplish, and what I can realistically accomplish. I've been making choices for the past 20 years good and bad and they've all had consequences.

avocadoawesome said...

One time I saw a psychic (for entertainment purposes with friends) and she told me that my life will be a complete roller-coaster until I turn 40. At first, I took it with a huge grain of salt and told myself that no one can tell me how my life will turn out. It was very different from the predictions she gave my girl friends, which were all about upcoming pregnancies and new boyfriends (none turned out to be true).

But having had a few years now to reflect, I think it was the best advice I've ever been given. It gives me hope to know that there will be a calm after the storm, and someday I might become the older women whom I have admired and sought counsel from.

I have actually been thinking about this lately and I want to thank you for sharing your experience with us. Congratulations on your birthday and I hope that being 40 (and beyond) is a rewarding change in your life :).

Monica Roberts said...

Hey Tami,
Been dealing with the Fab 40's for a while now.

I was less depressed about turning 40 than I was when I hit the milestone 30th birthday.

Welcome to the 40's

goose said...


40 was a wake up .. 44 still feels young.

I starting running again in my mid-30's to make it through a long and arduous divorce. I still run most mornings to start my day just right. I found your blog through a link on "Something from Within".. The name caught my eye.
Enjoy 2010..
Tami 11/10/1965

D said...

Nice post.
Good for me to read; informative and encouraging.

I'm 40 this year.

Eight months ago I was throwing my fists into the air, patting myself on the back and basking in the wonder of being nearly 40 and having a child who was soon to be in full time school for the first time. I felt accomplished and bloody thrilled by the new work and lifestyle potentials of kid-at-schoolness.

I thought, "I'm going to peak in my 40's, this is going to be great. I'm super fit, our business is about to pop, motherhood has primed me ... etc". I was full of a grounded confidence and bright, future flung anticipation was mine.

I've loved bringing up my girl. I did it the old-school way; I stayed home ~ it was tough ... but right.

Then, I thought that maybe I needed go to the chemist and get me one of those white, plastic urine dippers of truth, AKA a pregnancy test.


The long and short of my turning 40 story is this. I'm now 7 months pregnant with our unplanned first boy-child. For a few days I was kind of beside myself watching my initial visions of turning 40 fade into the receding distance on the back of the black stallion that I'd been riding a few days prior. (the weight that you write about, the limits ... the seriousness)

Then POP!:I made up a new story. This time with a bloody beautiful new family member written into the script.

Had I not been nearly 40 I would not have been capable of shifting my perspective with so much ease and conviction. I might not have been so flexible with what life threw at me. I would have winged and become confused in earlier years ... I might have even tantrumed.

40 to me is clarity and willingness to take whatever comes on, knowing that I can make life whatever it has to be in order to be right and good for my whole health and wellbeing.

At the end of the day, you're either happy to be alive or not ~ age matters not.

Thanks for writing your thoughts,



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