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In just about 18 months, I’ll be turning the big 4-0.
I’ve never been someone who dreaded getting older or hitting certain milestone birthdays. In fact, I adore birthdays.
I’m the obnoxious person who celebrates for the whole month and plans different outings with different groups of friends and family, just so I have an excuse to revel in “my special day,” over and over again.
But over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking more about where I’m at in my life, at 38, and where I thought I’d be as I approach 40.
My thoughts and my reality could not be more different.
I always assumed that I’d be at least a decade into a marriage by now. And that I’d hear a few little ones calling me “Mom.” And that I’d own a home—nothing too fancy, but comfortable. Basically, I thought I’d have a life similar to the one my parents had, the one they raised me in. One that felt “normal-ish” but also full.
I knew I wanted to do big things and go to great places, but beyond that the details were a bit fuzzy.
What I’ve found is that the life I’ve created for myself is even more fulfilling than I thought it could be, in part because it’s been so unexpected. My life doesn’t look like my parents’ or my sisters’ or even my friends’ lives.
It’s all mine—and it’s hard and creative and complicated and beautiful.
I’m not married, but I’m in a relationship with someone I love, who challenges me and helps me see the world from a different perspective. I don’t have kids yet, but my French bulldog puppy is quickly preparing me for all the joys and stresses I’ll one day encounter as a momma to humans. I don’t own a home but I live comfortably and have everything I need.
I have loyal, loving friends and a family who has always had my back, even when I’ve struggled beyond what I thought I could handle. I’ve lived completely alone, giving myself the time and space to be a fully formed person, outside of my connections to others. I have a job that fulfills me and encourages my creativity and leadership skills.
I’ve traveled to states and countries that have blown me away with their beauty, and I’ve swam with sea turtles (although I can’t actually swim) and jumped off buildings (although I’m scared of heights), and taken in so many magical experiences that I never fathomed would cross my path.
I’ve been heartbroken and drowning in grief. I’ve been lost and unsure what my next step would be. I’ve been to metaphorical hell and heaven and back, 10 times over.
What I know, as I inch closer and closer to 40, is that we often have no idea what life has planned for us. Maybe we’ll get the life we always dreamed of, maybe we’ll craft it perfectly. Or maybe life has something else planned for us entirely.
The specifics, the things we can’t plan for—the people, the places, the losses, the joys, the heartaches, the happiness—are what will set our reality apart from our dreams.
And what matters most is how we respond to the life we create for ourselves.
I don’t have everything I thought I would at this point, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get those things, and more. After all, 40 isn’t the end of anything—if we’re lucky, it’s just another beginning.
Here are 39 more things that might be helpful to know, according to Elephant readers, by the time we’re 40:
- “Alone does not mean lonely. The only person who will always be there for you, is you, so learn to love your own company.” ~ Candace
- “How to cope with loss and celebrate the joys in life.” ~ Kristi
- “Let it go, learn to forgive yourself, and always drink the best wine first.” ~ Melinda
- “Our thoughts aren’t always the truth.” ~ Rhani
- “In life, the only fair I know has a Ferris wheel.” ~ Viktoria
- “Never stop learning. Your brain should be expanding for life.” ~ Glenn
- “Believe in God but lock your car.” ~ Christine
- “Forgiving is a gift to yourself, not a pass for another, and forgiving doesn’t mean you have to now include said person in your life.” ~ Randee
- “Financial literacy skills.” ~ Chidubem
- “That everyone is entitled to be and should work toward being their true authentic self, without judgment or shame.” ~ Kellie
- “It’s okay to laugh at inappropriate things as long as you find it funny.” ~ Jamie
- “Always double the amount of lemon, ginger, garlic in a recipe.” ~ Lauren
- “Move your body every day. A body in motion stays in motion.” ~ Lynne
- “Just because you want something doesn’t mean you get to have it, and want and need are not the same thing.” ~ Colleen
- “It’s okay to be wrong…even if you are right.” ~ Richard
- “Your intent is irrelevant; it is how the receiver interprets what you said or did. I was an HR Manager and don’t know how many times I said this!” ~ Pat
- “How to stand up for ourselves and say no.” ~ Allison
- “You’re not a failure if you make different choices than others, or what society tells you.” ~ Ans
- “How to be self-sufficient, to balance a checkbook, and to have an adequate plan for retirement.” ~ Pamela
- “Romantic love is a good-to-have, not a must-have, for a happy and fulfilling life.” ~ Rileena
- “Adults are all just big kids pretending to adult.” ~ Stacy
- “That the dishwasher top drawer is adjustable and can be lowered. And raisins in cookies are not okay.” ~ Vicky
- “Do not put the keys to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.” ~ Rose
- “When to give. When to forgive. And when to give up.” ~ Debra
- “Never accept anything and never believe anything at face value. Analyze. Listen. Observe. Interrogate. Question. Query. Research.” ~ Michelle
- “Always have a plan but remain flexible to changing it.” ~ Robin
- “How to unclog a drain, how to change a lightbulb, and how to boil, sauté, and fry food.” ~ Priscilla
- “The definition of ‘deductible’ and that it’s the amount we agree to pay out of pocket for whatever loss occurred.” ~ Denise
- “How to build a fire, purify water, and make people smile.” ~ Joseph
- “Make memories instead of running after money all the time…we only get life once.” ~ Purnima
- “Nothing is free. Love yourself. Call your mom more often.” ~ Arthur
- “That you still feel the same no matter what your age is…but do all the hiking you can now.” ~ Channa
- “You don’t have all the answers. You don’t need all the answers. The right answers are multiple-choice.” ~ Johnson
- “Stop being a people pleaser.” ~ Kimberly
- “You can’t take your money, ego, and pride with you to your grave.” ~ Emma
- “Don’t take things personally; just be kind. But boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.” ~ Erica
- “Trust patterns, not words. They reveal people’s character.” ~ Maysua
- “Healing is not linear. Things will pass slowly and eventually. Gratitude is a medicine for the soul.” ~ Ari
- “Everyone knows you don’t get it together till your 50s.” ~ Danny
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